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Police & Fire

Weeks-long campaign deters drunken driving

Police crack down to boost awareness

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    Shelen Stevens of Weston, Ohio, holds photos of her deceased parents, Bill and Sharon DeWitt, and her son at a news conference on Tuesday at the Ohio Highway Patrol post in Bowling Green. At left is Sandy Wiechman, BGSU safe communities coordinator.

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    Savidge

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n4driving-1

Shelen Stevens of Weston, Ohio, holds photos of her deceased parents, Bill and Sharon DeWitt, and her son at a news conference on Tuesday at the Ohio Highway Patrol post in Bowling Green. At left is Sandy Wiechman, BGSU safe communities coordinator.

THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY
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Savidge

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The Ohio Highway Patrol, along with law enforcement agencies across the country, will be cracking down on drunken driving in the coming weeks as they participate in the national “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign.

Officers gathered at the Highway Patrol post in Bowling Green to listen to post commander, Lt. Jerrod Savidge, announce the kickoff of the campaign Tuesday morning. “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” began Monday and will run through Labor Day, Sept. 1.

“It’s a very important time for us. We will have people working overtime and we emphasize it as a multiagency enforcement week,” Lieutenant Savidge said.

Officers will be on high alert for any indicators of drunk and impaired driving.

“In Wood County, alcohol-related crashes are 7.3 time more likely to result in death than a nonalcohol involved crash,” said Sandy Wiechman, safe communities coordinator at Bowling Green State University. She said she hopes the campaign can increase awareness and help reduce the number of alcohol-related and fatal crashes.

Shelen Stevens of Weston, Ohio, also attended the event and shared the story of losing her parents in a crash with a drunken driver. On Oct. 5, 2008, Mrs. Stevens was driving with her parents and her 3-year-old son when their van was struck by a vehicle driven by Cory Mendoza, 19, who was drunk.

Mendoza was fleeing from a sheriff’s deputy going 81 mph when he hit Mrs. Stevens’ van, forcing it into a tree. Mrs. Stevens’ parents, William and Sharon DeWitt, both 69, died in the accident.

The crash marked Mendoza’s fourth DUI offense. His third offense, for which he paid only a $250 fine, occurred less than 60 days before he hit Mrs. Stevens’ van.

Mrs. Stevens said she has spoken to thousands of people about the dangers and consequences of drinking and driving. She shares photos of her parents, which still carry the exhibition tickets from court because they were used as evidence.

“My life has become one big exhibition ticket,” she said.

She said she has had a major surgery every year for the past five years. With her husband, Greg Stevens, standing by in support, Mrs. Stevens showed pictures of her son, Shane, and said he will never be the same either.

“Did I survive the actions of a drunk driver? Yeah. Am I thriving? No,” Mrs. Stevens said. “Every night is painful, both physically and emotionally.”

Mrs. Stevens urged police to get impaired drivers off the road, and they hope to do so with this campaign.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is using banners, billboards, and advertisements to spread the word about this period of increased enforcement.

Ms. Wiechman said that the Wood County Sheriff’s Office almost always creates a DUI checkpoint during the annual campaign.

Lieutenant Savidge said last year, Wood County police made 82 arrests in August and 83 arrests in September, largely as part of the campaign.

From 2004 through June, 2014, 185 people died in impaired-driving crashes in Lucas County.

The Lucas County Traffic Safety Program and the Lucas County OVI Task Force plan to kick off their “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign at 1 p.m. Thursday on the front steps of the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office.

Contact Kathleen Ashcraft at: kashcraft@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.

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