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Saturation patrol

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Metro DUI Task Force deploys in Jeffco

By AJ Vicens

On Sept. 17, 2005, Jamey Ober died in a single-car accident.

Ober, a 37-year-old Pro Stock driver, lived in Littleton and lost his life on northbound C-470 just north of the Morrison Road exit.

A little more than three years later, a motorist was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence at almost exactly the same spot where Ober lost his life.

The arrest was one of about a dozen that came as a result of the Metro DUI Task Force's saturation operation the night of Nov. 14 into the early morning of Nov. 15. The task force, created in 2007, brings together uniformed officers from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, the Colorado State Patrol, the Wheat Ridge Police Department, Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office and Denver Police Department. As a group, they target certain areas in one another's jurisdictions and seek out drunken drivers.

The Nov. 14 operation was the third time the task force has gathered this year. The first was during the summer in Denver, and the second was on Halloween in Arapahoe County.

About 8 p.m. Nov. 14, 27 officers and deputies gathered at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office in Golden to plan the operation. Jeffco sheriff's Lt. Brad Vredenburgh told the officers they would be focusing on South Wadsworth Boulevard, between Ken Caryl Avenue and U.S. 285, and would then shift to C-470 between Kipling Street and Ken Caryl Avenue. The group would then shift to north Jefferson County for the rest of the operation.

The officers rolled out of Golden about 8:30 on their way to South Jeffco. In the patrol car on the way, Jim Shires, a Jeffco sheriff's spokesman and a member of the sheriff's DUI unit in the 1990s, discussed DUIs.

"I can hardly think of a crime more senseless than DUI," Shires said.

With so many people having cell phones and their friends and family willing to pick them up from bars or parties, and the well-publicized devastating effects of DUI, Shires said he doesn't understand why people still drive drunk.

DUI deaths in Colorado peaked in 1983, with about 65 percent of auto-related fatalities involving alcohol, according to Alcohol Alert, an online DUI awareness group. Since then, alcohol-related fatalities have steadily declined in percentage and number, except in 2000 and 2001. In 2006, 33 percent of all traffic fatalities involved a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher.

In Colorado, drivers are considered to be driving under the influence if their blood-alcohol concentration is 0.08 or higher. But they are considered to be driving while ability impaired with a blood-alcohol content of 0.05, and will still be arrested. The limits go lower than that for teenage drivers and truck drivers.

The man arrested near Ober's memorial sign had a blood-alcohol content more than three times the legal limit.

Once the saturation patrol began on Wadsworth Boulevard about 9 p.m., it didn't take long for the officers to start pulling people over. The radio channel designated for the event crackled to life every few minutes with another report of an officer making a stop. Not all of the people pulled over were suspected of DUI; some had defective taillights or expired registrations.

At 9:30 p.m., the task force had at least a half dozen traffic stops going at the same time, four within a half mile of South Wadsworth Boulevard and West Bowles Avenue.

While working one of the stops just south of West Bowles Avenue on Wadsworth, officers from Arapahoe County and the Jeffco Sheriff's Office were having a driver perform a series of roadside sobriety tests. A woman drove by at a high rate of speed, honking at the officers. Jeffco sheriff's Deputy Jeremy Mayns jumped in his car and pulled the woman over. She told Mayns she wanted the officers to park their cars “correctly” on the side of the road.

Shires said the episode underscores the danger of DUI enforcement. That situation could have turned tragic because, on the side of a busy street like Wadsworth, officers need to stay focused and aware, and the honking could have caused an unsteady suspect to wander into traffic.

Seven drivers had been taken into custody for DUI by 12:50 a.m. Nov. 15.

Later, as he was cruising up and down Wadsworth, Shires explained that, in the past, different jurisdictions didn't share resources.

"It never used to be like that," Shires said. "Finances probably have a lot to due with it."

Shires said situations such as the shootings at Platte Canyon High School and Columbine High made law enforcement agencies realize that they can accomplish a lot if they work together.

"They probably figured, 'Why can't we do that with DUI enforcement?' " Shires said.

Who pays?

Jeffco and other metro-area taxpayers won't pay the bill for the operation. Drivers convicted of alcohol-related offenses foot the bill through the Law Enforcement Assistance Fund. LEAF funds are given to various counties in the form of grants every year to fund DUI enforcement operations. Shires said many of the officers involved were working their regular shifts, but any overtime costs incurred by any of the agencies involved used LEAF funds to pay for it.

Saving lives

Meanwhile, anyone who would call the operation a waste of time or money would draw a quick rebuke from Shires.

"Give me a price on somebody's life," Shires said.

Even if the operation pulled over just one drunken driver, it would be worth it to Shires.

"Even one drunk driver off the road is worth it. In my opinion, we've saved at least one life."

He explained that most officers have little patience with drunken drivers, and many agencies will continue operations like this until people learn not to drink and drive.

"We would love to be doing something else," Shires said. "It sickens us to go to these accidents and see people maimed and killed, and there's no reason for it."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news. ee