Wednesday, December 11, 2013
In what seems like choreographed precision, 33 law enforcement vehicles converge at the intersection of Trolley Road and Miles and within moments nine lanes are marked with cones, signs and yellow reflector-vested officers with flashlights. Thirty-three police vehicles are either along the roadway with blue lights flashing or parked in rows in the Meineke lot.
A DUI/Safety checkpoint has begun.
Summerville Police, Dorchester County Sheriff’s deputies and South Carolina Highway Patrol troopers work seamlessly together in this multi-agency cooperative event and slow cars down, ask for licenses, check tags, do a visual check of vehicles, notice open containers and smell marijuana or alcohol.
Occasionally, between 10 p.m. and midnight traffic backs up, irritating drivers. However, even those out of sorts from waiting in line grudgingly admit they would prefer to be held up in a checkpoint than on the road with a drunk.
Originally planned for the Stallsville Loop, the sheer numbers of law enforcement taking part force the move out to Trolley.
Although advertised in the paper and online, giving the public every opportunity to avoid the area, police still pull drivers to the side, who have open containers, are under the influence or have problems with their paperwork or vehicles.
Summerville Police organized the event in conjunction with its participation in Operation SOS – Sober Or Slammer!, and DCSO took part in conjunction with its HEAT grant.
HEAT – Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic – is a traffic grant, that paid for vehicles and officers at the DCSO. A number of states nationwide have H.E.A.T. grants.
SOS – Sober Or Slammer! Is a SCDPS program focused on reducing the number of impaired drivers on the roads.
A sobering fact: On Fridays and Saturdays, between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m., eight out of every 10 drivers are impaired says Lt. Steve Allison. In 2011, in South Carolina, total fatalities were 810 of which 51 percent (410) were alcohol-related making South Carolina 14th in the nation for alcohol-related fatalities.
Officers from the three agencies gather in the training room at SPD around 9 p.m. Friday, Lt. Steve Allison focuses the group made up of full time and reserve SPD officers, deputies and troopers. He goes over the key points in traffic stop safety, ensures that each is wearing a reflective safety vest, has a working flashlight and understands that initially, all they are asking a driver for is a driver’s license as they observe the driver and vehicle.
The DCSO offers that it has brought all the necessary traffic cones, signage and flashing lights.
Dispatcher Jessica Wells pops her head in to say hello and verify that the operation will have a dedicated channel on which to communicate with dispatch and that she will be their dispatcher.
By having a dedicated channel, the increase in radio traffic will not jam up normal dispatch channels.
“Okay,” says Allison, “eyes open, it’s dangerous out there…pay attention.”
The officers file out of the station and dozens of cars start up and head out.
Within moments of arrival, the checkpoint is operational.
Good evening, may I see your license please…Have a nice night, drive safely or good evening, may I see your license please … please pull over in that parking lot.
Within a half hour a number of cars are sitting at the side of the road in each direction.
One young man is standing on one leg, with his other extended in front of him while he recites the alphabet and follows an officers pen back and forth with his eyes.
He passes the field Sobriety test but is driving with a suspended license so he waits for another half hour while a friend walks to meet him and drive the car.
In the Kangaroo, troopers check papers, write citations. One young woman looks less than happy as she leans against her car, arms crossed and a pouty look on her face.
Occasionally an officer will drive the vehicle to the side of the road. When this happens, it is because the officer is quite certain the driver is intoxicated and will not allow him to drive even a few more feet to the side.
Another field sobriety test takes place in the Meineke lot while K-9 Officer Luke barks at the subject, perhaps upset that the man was behind the wheel.
The K-9 Unit sits quietly (or not so quietly) in the lot. Its canine officer is not part of the checkpoint, although the human officer is.
The unit could be called in if necessary.
Suddenly, a car makes an abrupt U-turn, bumping over the raised median, takes off down Trolley toward the Berlin G. Myers, racing through a red light. A Summerville unit takes off after it. (The unit caught the driver who was arrested and charged with DUI.)
On the side of the road by Repeat, a car with five young men has been pilled over. Three of the young men mill around, talking with the officers. On the roof of the car is an open, partially empty bottle of vodka. A cold, open can of beer sits next to it. The driver undergoes a sobriety test. In the backseat another young man sits with his hand wrapped in clothing. EMS arrives as the young man unwraps his hand and bloody cuts are revealed. Apparently, he is responsible for an earlier vandalism call at a local motel where a window was broken.
He climbs in the ambulance for a trip to Summerville Medical Center. The driver of the vehicle has not been drinking.
Unopened beer is put in the vehicle’s trunk along with the now empty bottle of vodka and can of beer. The contents of both have been dumped on the side of the road.
The car leaves with its remaining four occupants.
Another is pulled over and the 30-something male driver fails a sobriety test. He puts his hands behind his back, is handcuffed, advised of his Miranda Rights and carefully deposited in the back of a patrol car for his journey to the DCSO where he will be offered a breath test. His car awaits his mother to arrive to drive it away.
Back in the Meineke lot, a vehicle sits while officers search it. One teen, is taking a sobriety test. Two other teens are sitting on the bumper with a bit of attitude as a deputy asks them questions and instructs them on the long-term fallout of having a drug arrest on their record. They are there because the strong odor of marijuana was emanating from their vehicle at the checkpoint.
He notes how it will affect their ability to get a good job, how it will stick with them long after they grow out of this phase, etc. They don’t look convinced.
However, when he tells them their parents are being contacted, he gets a bit more of a reaction.
It has been a very busy night at the Trolley/Miles intersection but now, the team decides to move its checkpoint to Midland Parkway, just up from the hospital.
At first blush, it doesn’t appear to be all that busy. However, a steady stream of traffic comes through. This checkpoint is only one lane each way. All but one of the troopers leaves as Troop 6 is understaffed with a huge multi-county territory.
For the dramatically lesser amount of traffic, the “pull-overs” quickly mount up.
A half-empty bottle of gin comes from one vehicle and the driver fails her field sobriety, is charged with DUI and taken to SPD.
Another driver also fails and he, too, leaves. A flatbed arrives to load up his car. However, before the car can go, an officer must make a detailed inventory of the car and its contents, witnessed by another officer. This protects the owner, the officer and the tow company. The officer fills out a sheet listing such things as stereo system, what is in the trunk and glove compartment and even what damages there are to the vehicle prior to the tow.
Another man, with three or four open and/or empty cans of beer in his car, debates the merits of his having to take a sobriety test…after all, he says, he wasn’t drinking them. This debate continues with myriad reasons why he should have to take it. In the meantime, a child sits patiently in the back seat of the vehicle. An adult passenger is talking with some other officers. Eventually, the driver concedes to the test, passes it, and is sent on his way.
The checkpoint event is over, but the operation is not finished. Deputies, the trooper and SPD officers say goodbye and thanks, and each head off. Back at the Summerville station, the officers gather in the traffic room and report their numbers. About 45 minutes or so later, the stats have been gathered from all three agencies for the evening. The total is 70 citations and/or arrests of which five were DUI arrests.
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