COARSEGOLD – The officers of the Oakhurst area CHP kept traffic moving at a good pace during their DUI/Drivers License Checkpoint on Friday, June 27 in Coarsegold.
Officers set up near the Shell Station on the north end of town, and at about 7:30 p.m., began stopping southbound drivers to check for valid driver’s licenses and signs of impairment.
Sergeant Jeff O’Brien, who was in charge of the event, says a big part of doing the checkpoints is education.
“We’re letting everybody know what we’re out here for, what we’re looking for, and kind of keeping people focused on doing the right thing,” says O’Brien, who was pleased with the evening’s work, saying things went off “without a hitch.”
To keep things running smoothly, three officers were positioned along the center divide, and as drivers pulled up, three cars at a time were screened. If the backup got too long, cars were allowed to pass through without a check, keeping the traffic moving with a minimum of delay and inconvenience to motorists.
“We let them know it’s a sobriety/driver’s license checkpoint and we ask to see their driver’s license.” says O’Brien. “We have maybe 30 seconds at that window to establish whether or not we see any signs or symptoms of intoxication.”
If the officer determines that further interaction in needed, drivers are directed out of the roadway to the screening area.
Of the 775 cars that passed through the checkpoint, 693 were checked. Though 11 drivers were pulled into the screening area and given a field sobriety test, none was deemed to be over the legal limit, and no arrests were made for driving under the influence.
There were, however, four drivers with suspended licenses, and one to whom no license had ever been issued. Three of those vehicles were impounded, and the fourth had a licensed passenger onboard who took over the driving duties.
Other citations included an expired registration, two drivers with no insurance, and one with a misdemeanor warrant.
At some point during the evening, some helpful citizen took the time to round up a piece of plywood and write “DUI Checkpoint 3.5 miles,” then place their sign on Deadwood to alert southbound traffic. Though the checkpoint was not a secret, CHP officers did remove the sign, as Cal Trans frowns on people posting signs along their right-of-way.
For those who wondered why the checkpoint was publicized ahead of time, Sgt. O’Brien notes that there are certain procedures that must be followed when setting up these things, including public notification and guidelines for choosing a location.
“We issue a press release 48 hours ahead of time stating that we will be setting up a checkpoint, then announce the name of the town four hours in advance,” says O’Brien. These are guidelines set out by the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which provides funding for these projects.
O’Brien also says that sobriety checkpoints have not always included the inspection of driver’s licenses. However, research conducted by the Department of Motor Vehicles indicates that 33 percent of drivers with suspended or revoked licenses have a criminal record, and drivers with suspended or revoked licenses are far more likely than licensed drivers to be involved in fatal and injury traffic collisions. Therefore, the CHP has made it part of the process in order to ensure “the highest level of traffic safety.”
Sgt. O’Brien says his officers stayed busy until midnight, and things started slowing down around 12:30 a.m. Officers Buttgereit, Kinney, Tomazin and Matyshock were there for the duration, while Officer Lutz stayed late on his regular shift to give Minarets Mustangs Coach and CHP Officer Paul Varner time to finish out his baseball game and “change hats.”
Though Coarsegold’s Starlight Taxi passed through the checkpoint several times throughout the evening, a call to them disproved the notion that perhaps business had been boosted by the presence of all those cop cars.