See the update at the end of this post about the Mother's Against Drunk Driving push back and a victim of the Fullerton crash that killed Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart addressing the council.
ORIGINAL POST, AUG. 27, 3:29 P.M.: From 12:01 a.m. Friday, Aug. 17 through midnight Friday, Aug. 24, 310 people have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs through the first half of stepped up sobriety patrols, stings and checkpoints that continue through Labor Day, according to Orange County's “Avoid the 38” DUI Task Force. But there is also word that one OC city is reevaluating its role in these operations. Will the task force that takes its number from the 38 participating law enforcement agencies have to change its name to “Avoid the 37?”
The question is posed because reformers who joined the Fullerton City Council after June's recall election spurred by the cop murder of homeless man Kelly Thomas have championed other issues beyond cleaning up the police department. Among them: outlawing sobriety checkpoints.
The council last week voted to return $50,000 in grants to the Fullerton Police Department for DUI checkpoints and other enforcement by the California Office of Traffic Safety through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Returning the funds was pushed by Councilman Travis Kiger, a tech business owner, former planning commissioner and Friends for Fullerton's Future blogger who was elected to the council in June alongside Doug Chaffee and Greg Sebourn.
Kiger has maintained for years that DUI checkpoints deny citizens their constitutional right to move around unimpeded, and he's critical of officers receiving time-and-a-half to work them.
Now councilman Sebourn and Bruce Whitaker, who was critical of the police department and the Kelly Thomas incident before and since the recall election, joined Kiger in voting down the funds.
One candidate for the next Fullerton City Council race that will have Kiger defending his seat is already trying to make political hay out of the DUI checkpoint vote. Attorney Jan Flory, who calls Kiger, Sebourn and Whitaker “our Tea Party council members,” finds the move idiotic.
“You think there might be a reason for checkpoints in a town with 51 bars? Duh!” Flory writes on her campaign's Facebook page.
Flory counters the operations help educate the public about the dangers of drinking and driving, while encouraging those filling the town's 51 bars to use a taxi or designated driver to get home safely. She also takes issue with the council majority failing to solicit the thoughts of the police department before voting down the funding.
We warned you about the current “Avoid the 38” campaign Friday morning . . .
The task force reported today that the recent 310 arrests compares to 356 during the same eight-day time period in 2011–and that the 310 is based on provisional data as not all agencies have divulged their totals yet.
In addition to checkpoints and special saturation patrol, which continue this weekend (stay tuned to this blog), the Orange County Sheriff's Department ran a sting Friday at the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach.
Defendants with suspended driver's licenses because of a prior DUI citations and arrests were followed by plainclothes officers out to the courthouse's parking lot after their court proceedings and–if they got in a vehicle and drove away–they were pulled over and arrested on suspicion of driving on a suspended license. Their vehicles, which were towed from the scene, are now subject to 30-day holds.
One of the six arrestees was also held for an outstanding warrant. And, speaking of warrants, seven more people were arrested today at their South County homes on warrants for their alleged failing to appear on DUI citations, Avoid the 38 just announced.
UPDATE, AUG. 29, 1:37 P.M.: Before the Fullerton City Council met again Tuesday night, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) expressed its displeasure with a council majority voting to return to the state $50,000 in sobriety checkpoint funding.
"They are among the most effective drunk-driving deterrents,” Mary Beth Griffin, executive director of Orange County MADD chapter, reportedly told the Orange County Register of the checkpoints.
If that was not enough to get a council majority to reconsider, an appearance before the council later that evening by Jon Wilhite may have. For its part, the council put the matter off until at least Sept. 18.
Wilhite is the former Cal State Fullerton Titans catcher who was the only survivor in the car with Anaheim Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart, Henry Pearson and driver Courtney Stewart in April 2009, when they were mowed down by a repeat drunken driver who ran a red light.
Having miraculously survived despite having had his skull ripped from his spine in the accident, Wilhite told the council, "If you don't allow these checkpoints to exist, the blood's on your hands.”
His brother, Chad Wilhite, added: "Every checkpoint, on average, takes as long as going through a red
light. I mean, if we can't wait that long then I don't know what's wrong
Other DUI accident survivors also addressed the council, as did residents who share their council majority's view that checkpoints accomplish little other than padding the paychecks of officers who work them.
As one fellow put it, "We're sick and tired of paying overtime to cops that just stand there and do nothing.”
While the council majority had voted to return the $50,000, the panel had voted unanimously to accept a second grant of $146,222 for other programs besides checkpoints aimed at reducing drunken driving. The city has 206 liquor licenses out.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before "graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.