OVI crackdown begins

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Local and state law enforcement agencies are teaming for a nationwide campaign to curb drinking and driving through the Labor Day weekend.

The Mahoning County OVI Task Force, Mahoning Safe Communities and the Ohio State Highway Patrol on Monday kicked off their “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign.

The campaign combines awareness, education and enforcement in an effort to reduce impaired driving arrests and alcohol-related crashes. Saturation patrols, checkpoints and blitzes are planned throughout the Valley beginning Aug. 19 through Sept. 2.

According to the Ohio State Patrol, there were nearly 500 alcohol-related fatalities on Ohio roadways in 2012. Labor Day is one of the top three holidays where alcohol related crashes and arrests spike, officials said.  Lt. Nakia Hendrix, Commander OSP Canfield Post, said while they will be assisting the Mahoning County OVI Task Force, OSHP will be conducting their own saturation patrols and checkpoints.

“We’re going to put troopers out on the road to spread the message and let people know if you are caught drinking and driving, there will be consequences,” said Hendrix.

Along with the extra patrols, local law enforcement will be participating in educational programs at the Canfield Fair. Mahoning County Safe Communities is sponsoring a booth where residents can learn about the perils of impaired driving and see first-hand how sobriety tests are conducted and what officers are looking for when they suspect a driver is impaired.

“They’ll be doing sobriety testing, different activities related to impaired driving awareness,” said Susan Viars, coordinator Mahoning County Safe Communities. “We’ll have the fatal vision goggles for people to play around with.”

Viars said education goes hand in hand with enforcement and the more the public is aware of how drinking can impair the operation of a vehicle, the more likely people are to make better choices when it comes to drinking and driving.

Assistant Canfield Police Chief Scott Weamer, who leads the Mahoning County OVI Task Force, said the checkpoints, blitzes and saturation patrols are successful tools in enforcement. In the past 10 months, there have been 65 OVI arrests during those campaigns. Checkpoints resulted in 33 arrests, 20 during blitzes and 12 during local saturation patrols.

A sobriety checkpoint was held on Friday near the Youngstown Playhouse on Glenwood Avenue, and officers also conducted saturation patrols in the area. According to statistics provided by the Mahoning County OVI Task Force, 367 vehicles passed through the checkpoint and 19 vehicles were diverted for further investigation. Officers on saturation patrols conducted 27 traffic stops.

Between the checkpoint and patrols, eight people were arrested for OVI, five people were cited for open container, six people were issued a summons for marijuana possession and nine people were cited for various traffic violations. One of the drivers arrested for OVI also was arrested on a charge of resisting arrest.

“As a task force our mission is twofold: education and enforcement. We are looking for anyone who has made a bad decision about their drinking and driving. We will arrest those people,” said Weamer. “During this period, make no mistake, the emphasis is on enforcement. Law enforcement will be diligent.”

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