An advocate for families who lost loved ones in drunken driving accidents doesn’t spend much time in Medina County. That’s because there are fewer serious accidents involving drugs and alcohol here than in surrounding areas.
Julie Leggett, executive director of Mother’s Against Drunk Driving’s Northeast Ohio affiliate, spoke to members of law enforcement agencies throughout the county Thursday morning as the Medina County Safe Communities Coalition kicked off its annual “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign.
Leggett said MADD served 400 Ohio families who either lost a loved one or suffered an injury in a drunken driving accident.
She held up a photo of Kent State University student Elizabeth Faulkner, who was killed in October 2006 by a drunken driver.
“Her mother sent me a check and this photograph,” Leggett said, holding up a senior photo of Faulkner. “She said Elizabeth was her only daughter and asked me to do everything I could to help prevent drunk driving.
“When you’re out on patrol, please help me complete my task for Elizabeth’s mom.”
Leggett said the work of law enforcement has kept alcohol-related accidents in Medina lower than in surrounding counties.
Brunswick Officer Jerry Klue, who administers the Safe Communities grant and program, said law enforcement in the county is successful because of the participation from all police departments.
“Every chief in the county is on board,” Klue said. “Other places around the state sometimes struggle to get everyone to the table.”
The cooperation allows the coalition to implement a countywide OVI Task Force targeting high-crash areas and places where officers report a high number of arrests for operating a vehicle while impaired. So far, the task force has conducted nine sobriety checkpoints this year and three more are planned before 2013 ends.
All the law enforcement agencies are willing to work together and Sheriff Tom Miller gives officers countywide jurisdiction to allow for the checkpoints to be staffed with officers from all departments.
“There’s no doubt what we’re doing is efficient, and it’s only efficient because everyone comes together,” Klue said.
The statistics back up Klue’s statements, said Lt. Bill Haymaker, commander of the Ohio Highway Patrol’s Medina post. In 2012, 13 percent of crashes were alcohol- or drug-related, but that figure has dropped to 7 percent so far in 2013.
The number of fatal crashes also is down, he said. At this time last year, there were six fatal crashes in the county; so far, there has been one this year.
On June 13, 22-year-old Mateo Ralios Delacruz’s vehicle went left of center on state Route 18 and crashed head-on into a car, killing passenger Chad Nelson, 29, of Brunswick. The patrol said Ralios had a blood-alcohol content of 0.123 and did not have a driver’s license. He has been charged with aggravated vehicular homicide, aggravated vehicular assault and receiving a stolen vehicle.
Haymaker said that while he is pleased fatal crashes are down, the June 13 fatal crash could have been prevented by a decision to not drink and drive.
“If this person, this 22-year old person, had made the decision to not drink, we would not have had that fatal crash,” he said.
The national “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign launches Aug. 16 and ends Sept. 2. Klue said the goal is not just a focus on traffic enforcement, but a public awareness campaign about the dangers of drinking and driving. He said officers throughout the county are always on the lookout for drunken drivers and that will continue with the work of the OVI Task Force.
The officers also heard Thursday from Dr. Mark Meechum, the county’s assistant coroner and medical director of Brunswick Family Health Center, about the effect alcohol has on a person operating a car, even at levels that are below the legal limit of 0.08.
“Even at .02 … we start to see some loss of judgment … and a little trouble with multitasking,” Meechum said.
Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.