Officers step up DUI efforts before St. Patrick’s Day

By Debora  Villalon

KTVU.com

SAN FRANCISCO —

Saint Patrick’s Day is Monday March 17, but police agencies on the Peninsula are getting a jump-start on the party with early DUI enforcement.

“People need to be aware these collisions kill people, ” Sgt. Jay Kiely of the Burlingame Police Dept. told KTVU. Kiely coordinated saturation patrols Monday night, putting officers from Burlingame, San Mateo, and Hillsborough on the streets in area of high citations and collisions. They hoped their visibility and enforcement would plant the idea, as people plan for St. Patricks Day, also plan a sober way home.

“It’s not worth it,” Kiely added, “even after a couple of drinks, if you’re not sure, call somebody, take a cab, Uber, whatever.”

San Mateo County racked up a startling 12 DUI related deaths last year, counting only the crashes on surface streets, not the freeways. That compares to only one the year before. And behind the statistics, are broken families.

“Life is what you make of it Katie, and you have everything you need to make it a great one, ” Kate Swanson read aloud to KTVU. In her hand, on a yellow pad, a letter her mother wrote to her as she graduated from high school 20 years ago.

“I’m always here for you, Katie, no matter what, ” Swanson read, her voice wavering with emotion at some passages.

It’s a letter she shares with students and community groups as a volunteer for MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Swanson’s mother, 63-year-old Mona Norman was killed by a drunk driver near Turlock, hit head-on by a pick-up truck going the wrong way, headlights off.

“She’s missed weddings, she’s missed big moves, she’s missed career changes,” said Swanson sadly, “she’s missed all those things in life, that your mom is the first one you call.”

When Swanson joined MADD, she was stunned to meet so many other people like her.

And as five years have passed, she’s aware that DUI crashes, and heartbreak, haven’t ebbed.

“At our meetings, we see how many new victims, how many new offenders,” shared Swanson, “so we’re doing what we can, but it feels like we’re spinning our wheels, it’s sad.”

Just this past Saturday night, March 8, an alleged drunk driver wrecked his Acura, and killed his passenger, his cousin, in San Leandro.

“There’s some sort of disconnect ” said Swanson, “between thousands of dollars it will cost you and prison time, and the wreckage to families, and yet people still do it.”

Numbers from the Office of Traffic Safety estimate the economic impact of DUI with a death at 1.4 million dollars.

“If that person was a spouse, a head of a household, all the wages that person would have earned throughout their life, you’re on the hook for it”, explained Sgt. Kiely.

Lost productivity can be calculated, but the pain is immeasurable. One of the worst 2013 crashes on the Peninsula involved a young driver of a Mustang, who lost control in Colma, and split the car in half. He survived, but his girlfriend and two other passengers were killed.

“People will still take the risk, ” observed Swanson, “because they don’t understand it will happen to them.”

The driver who killed her mother at 63 is serving a seven-year sentence for vehicular manslaughter.

Kate and her younger sister are grown women, but she notes, living without their mother has little to do with age.

As she put it, “when you lose your mom, you’re still a kid.”

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