Local DUI arrests show steady decline

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The number of people arrested for driving under the influence in Mountain Home and Elmore County continued a steady decline over the past year.

According to information released by local and state law enforcement agencies last week, 135 people were arrested for driving under the influence in 2013.

A majority of those arrests happened within the city of Mountain Home with 80 reported incidents, which included one individual under the legal drinking age of 21. Elmore County sheriff's deputies accounted for another 41 arrests with Idaho State Police apprehending another 15 individuals.

Statistics for Mountain Home represent an 11 percent increase between 2012 and 2013. It follows a spike in 2011 with police arresting 133 people for driving under the influence over that 12-month period.

Idaho State Police saw a significant drop in DUI-related incidents with 362 arrests in 2013 in 10 counties in southwest Idaho compared to 561 the year prior. Meanwhile, Elmore County sheriff's deputies saw more consistent numbers with 41 arrests in 2013 following a spike in 2012 in which 46 people were charged with driving under the influence.

Mountain Home Police Chief Nick Schilz credited public awareness and the efforts of his officers behind the drop in DUI-related incidents.

"If people get pulled over for DUI, they're going to jail," Schilz said. That continues to serve as an effective deterrent.

At the same time, people are recognizing the consequences of drinking and driving "and are choosing to use designated drivers, taxis or other ways to get home safely, he said.

Society, as a whole, is not as tolerant when it comes to those who drink and drive, he added. People are more willing to pick up a phone and call authorities when they see a driver they believe is impaired or intoxicated.

Idaho State Police also credited, in part, years of education aimed at discouraging people from getting behind the wheel while they're under the influence. Among these efforts was a four-year initiative known as the enhanced patrol program.

From August 2008 to March 2012, Idaho State Police troopers nearly doubled the number of contacts they had with drivers on Idaho's highways. By the end of this effort, state police saw a significant drop in the number of people that were driving under the influence, a state police spokesperson said in a previous interview with the Mountain Home News.

"By doing these saturation patrols, especially during the holidays... we hope that people are making better decisions," said Teresa Baker, a spokesperson with the Idaho State Police.

At the same time, the Elmore County Sheriff's Department has a greater number of deputies on streets and highways across the county. That presence is leading to more arrests of people that are intoxicated behind the wheel, said Sheriff Rick Layher.

"Our deputies are doing an outstanding job out there," Layher said.

However, the sheriff remains concerned with the number of people arrested each year on charges of excessive DUI, legally described as a blood-alcohol content above .2 percent or more than twice the legal limit.

In 2013, 17 percent of all DUI-related arrests made by county deputies involved individuals that fell into this category. Mountain Home police arrested nine people for being excessively intoxicated behind the wheel during the year.

"It's a concern to have someone out there that impaired," Layher said.

"It's always a problem," Schilz added. "These people... are far more dangerous on the roads."

According to Baker, one DUI is one too many.

"With as many options that are out there, there's no reason why people can't find a safe way home," she said.

However, Layher and other law enforcement officers know there are still people out there that will continue to take unnecessary risks and get behind the wheel after they've had too much to drink.

"With a lot of people, alcohol impairs their judgement," Layher said. "They get the attitude that they're OK and will try to make it home."

It's not too tough catching impaired or intoxicated drivers, the sheriff added. Sometimes, deputies will catch drivers driving too fast and making mistakes as they try to take a curve, for example.

But that's not always the case, the sheriff added. In many cases, intoxicated drivers will drive excessively slow, trying not draw attention. When they know they're being followed by a sheriff's deputy, these drivers will try to focus on driving straight and follow the posted speed limit.

"But they won't be able to do that for very long," Layher said. "We watch them, and sure enough they'll go over the fog line or the centerline."

The sheriff knows all too well the consequences of what happens when someone drives under the influence. In 2011, a family of four died at the hands of a drunken driver in a head-on collision on the interstate.

The driver convicted in that fatal wreck will spend at least five more years in prison before he qualifies for parole in 2019.

People in places like Mountain Home seem to get the message when it comes to drinking and driving, Schilz said. He highlighted the number of vehicles left parked in the city's bar district Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Each one represents a person that found a safe way to get home, he said. They chose not to drive while impaired.

"Quite honestly, more people today are getting rides or finding designated drivers," Layher added.

With the Superbowl just four days away, law enforcement officials urged people to have a plan in place if their plans include alcohol for themselves and their guests. Hosts that expect to host parties at their homes during the game should ensure they have a way for their guests to get home safe, Baker said.

The sheriff urged people to do the right thing by never getting behind the wheel of any vehicle.

"It's not worth risking the lives of yourself and others," he said.