By Darrell Todd Maurina
Local law enforcement agencies plan extra patrols on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, and the district attorney is getting ready for what could be up to three times as many driving while intoxicated cases as he sees in a normal week.
“It’s more likely than not that they’ll make more DWI arrests than any other time of the year; we need to be ready to handle those cases,” said Ninth Judicial District Attorney Brett Carter.
“Usually the Fourth (of July) and New Year’s are the biggest time of year for DWI. During the rest of the year we see eight to 10 new cases each week,” Carter said. “During this week, we have anywhere from 20 to 35 cases. That’s a good possibility in a seven-day time period.”
Carter said those who drive drunk face up to 90 days in jail and a $300 fine, even for their first offense, and a mandatory 48 hours in jail if they refuse a breath or blood alcohol test or if the tests come back with results showing .16 or higher.
“One of the things that should scare drunk drivers is the obvious fact that when they are out there driving drunk they are a bullet looking for a victim,” Carter said. “If someone receives great bodily harm or is killed, they are looking at a third degree felony and that’s six years in prison per victim, even for a person with no prior record whatsoever. If you have prior DWI convictions it can be two additional years per conviction.”
Carter also said car insurance rates for those convicted of DWI will increase, possibly by $2,000 to $3,000 per year, and their driver’s license will be suspended a minimum of 90 days.
Sheriff Roger Hatcher said anyone who’s too drunk to drive on New Year’s Eve should call the joint police and sheriff dispatch center at 769-1921, dial zero, and ask for a ride home. Depending on whether the caller is outside or inside the city limits, a sheriff’s deputy or a city police officer will respond.
“There is really no excuse for someone to get out on the holiday season and get intoxicated and drive,” Hatcher said. “It is a lot easier for us to get them a ride home than to scrape them up off the highway and take them to jail, the hospital, or the morgue.”
In a press release, the Clovis Police Department said its officers will be conducting saturation patrols, roadblocks, and other enforcement actions on New Year’s Eve as part of Operation Superblitz by the New Mexico Traffic Safety Bureau. Additional information on city law enforcement efforts wasn’t immediately available.
For the state police, Operation DWI Coordinator Sgt. Chris Clements said about 40 percent more officers will be on the road than normal, thanks to overtime funding by Safer New Mexico Now and the state traffic safety bureau.
“Alcohol-related crashes and injury crashes affect everyone’s vehicle insurance statewide, and we don’t like doing victim notification of families any more than people like receiving it,” Clements said. “It’s kind of hard to tell a parent that their 16-year-old was involved in an alcohol-related accident.”
Clements said the state works particularly hard to enforce DWI laws during the holiday season because of a track record of serious problems.
“It’s a socially accepted period to indulge yourself, which can be fatal,” Clements said. “I’ve been stationed all over the state, and holidays are horrible with alcohol-involved driving.
“Impaired driving, and that includes narcotics as well as alcohol, along with the deadly weapon of a vehicle, don’t mix — period,” Clements said.