Arizona officers kick off DUI patrol for holiday season

Posted at 3:23 PM, Nov 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-29 21:23:09-05

The holidays are a time of cheer — but Valley police are on the lookout for those who’ve had too many cups of “cheer.”  

On Tuesday, The Governor's Office of High Safety kicked off it's Holiday DUI Enforcement and Sober Designated Driver campaigns. 

More than 9,000 law enforcement officers are expected to hit the streets in the coming weeks in search for impaired drivers.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety used startling DUI stats in announcing the launch of its annual holiday DUI Task force. DPS said traffic deaths are at a three year high, with 100 people killed in drunk driving crashes on Arizona highways where DPS patrols.

Those numbers don’t take into account cities. Phoenix police said they’ve already made 1,900 DUI arrests this year already. From Nov. 23-26, there were 333 DUI arrests. That's up 16 people compared to last year. 

Wrong way driving crashes are also a huge problem in the state.

DPS Director Colonel Frank Milstead said, "We say the same thing every year. Drinking and driving, impaired driving has to become a social issue. It has to become socially unacceptable. We just can't arrest our way out of this problem."

Studies showed that while wrong way crashes made up only three percent of all accidents, they were 27 percent more deadly — causing up to 400 deaths a year nationwide.

In recent years the Arizona Department of Transportation has done a lot to combat the problem. 

From larger wrong way signs that light up red when you're going the wrong say, to more arrows, and a pilot project that would use existing technology in the pavement, cameras and sensors to detect drunk drivers, ADOT Director John Halikowski said they were "exhaustively" looking at any and all measures to help reduce the number of wrong way crashes.

"One of the things folks have to realize is that even if we had all the technology in the world out there, it does not stop a person from making a wrong decision and driving impaired," Halikowski said.

Despite Arizona officials pushing to stop wrong way drivers, Valley families are still mourning the loss of their loved ones.

Mike DiPatri, a father from the west Valley, knows how it feels to get a call in the middle of the night.

“I just went like this to her,” said Mike, shaking his head back and forth as if to say no.  “Because I knew what she was going to tell me.

Somehow, Mike just knew it was bad news when the phone rang one September night back in 2007. He knew it was bad news about his 24-year-old son Stephen.

“[He] went down to South Carolina one weekend to see an old girlfriend. On the way back… a 20-year-old drunk driver killed him,” Mike said.
Stephen’s motorcycle was destroyed and he was lying on the road — 2,000 miles away from the spot where his dad was getting the life-changing phone call.

“There was a first responder there that knelt down on the road there, picked up Stephen and just held him as he died... and that gives me a little bit of comfort," Mike said.

The loss devastated the family.

“Everybody [in the family] kind of looked at me,” said Mike, who had always played the role of fixer when family problems cropped up.  “I can't fix it. And that was frustrating because that was something I just couldn't fix."