DUI checkpoint nabs at least four alleged drunk drivers

Smith: “Letting one family go home alive … we have achieved our goal”

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

Previous coverage
* Safe Kids Coalition, Ray Ray’s Pledge out to save kids’ lives

HOFFMAN — Deputy Clyde Smith figured the mission was simple: find suspected drunk drivers and take them off the roadway.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com As if being suspected of drunk driving wasn't bad enough, this man was handcuffed after allegedly taking a swing at this North Carolina trooper.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
As if being suspected of drunk driving wasn’t bad enough, this man was handcuffed after allegedly taking a swing at a North Carolina trooper.

Going into the DUI checkpoint on Friday night, Smith might not have realized how much material he’d have to work with. Smith and nearly two dozen other officers from six law enforcement agencies from three counties worked together Friday night to staff three DUI checkpoints in close proximity in the Hoffman area.

The primary checkpoints were set up on either side of the former convenience mart north of the Rockingham Dragway, one on U.S. Route 1 and one on State Route 177. The third location was just north of there, at U.S. Route 1 and Beaverdam Church Road. The idea, said Watson, was to help prevent motorists from sidestepping the primary checkpoints.

That likely still happened. Between texts from friends or social media posts, plenty of people knew to avoid the area. That didn’t mean that, in only three hours’ time, officers didn’t have plenty of opportunity to enforce a variety of traffic laws. The most important? Don’t drink and drive.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com The Breath Alcohol testing Mobile Unit was on site to process nearly half a dozen suspected impaired drivers.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
The Breath Alcohol testing Mobile Unit was on site to process nearly half a dozen suspected impaired drivers.

The operation was funded through the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office and executed through mutual aid agreements with the police departments in Rockingham, Hamlet, Laurinburg and Wadesboro, along with the North Carolina Highway Patrol.

Capt. Mike Burns said if a motorist is suspected of driving impaired — officers look for red or glassy eyes, or a smell of alcohol coming from inside the vehicle — they are to be led to the Breath Alcohol testing Mobile Unit, where they would be processed.

DUI is not the only reason a person would be stopped. In a checkpoint, everything’s fair game. So if an officer finds a driver without a valid license, insurance or registration, citations could be issued. Watson said statistics for the three-hour operation would be available as soon as Monday, including a breakdown by violation.

But officers were looking for justification of why they were there. It didn’t take long for one. Then two. Three. Four and more. One by one, each suspect was given a series of tests — walk this way and that, bend or stretch — then escorted to the back entrance of the Breath Alcohol testing Mobile Unit.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Cpl. Marcus Ricks, of the Rockingham Police Department, guides this man though a series of tests to determine sobriety. The man was escorted to the back of the mobile breath testing vehicle, which indicated an arrest.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Cpl. Marcus Ricks, of the Rockingham Police Department, guides this man though a series of tests to determine sobriety. The man was escorted to the back of the mobile breath testing vehicle, which indicated an arrest.

Burns acknowledged that if a driver executes a U-turn prior to reaching a checkpoint, an officer will be tasked with going to conduct a traffic stop to find out why. It doesn’t mean the person’s guilty of anything. On the other hand, if a person drives right through a checkpoint — with signage and enough lights on roughly a dozen patrol cars to light up the night — then something’s wrong.

That happened at least three times on Friday night. On one occasions, it seemed almost as if the driver of a tractor-trailer didn’t see the checkpoint. That’s alright, because the officers saw the 18-wheeler with no problem. On another occasion, a vehicle reportedly drove right through the checkpoint at Beaverdam Church Road. Cruisers raced off to intercept the vehicle and, upon conducting a traffic stop, officers allegedly found a number of illegal substances in the vehicle.

“Letting one family go home alive … we have achieved our goal,” Smith said.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com A North Carolina trooper explains to a suspect what happens next after he allegedly took a swing at a law enforcement officer.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
A North Carolina trooper explains to a suspect what happens next after he allegedly took a swing at a law enforcement officer.

Ground rules

At 8:03 p.m., Smith gathered with 21 other professionals in the courtroom of the old Richmond County Courthouse on East Franklin Street in downtown Rockingham to lay out the ground rules. Most everyone knew them already, but a good operation leaves nothing to question.

With the help of the Breath Alcohol testing Mobile Unit — affectionately dubbed the “Batmobile,” driven by Tonya B. Skinner, of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public Health — and a Richmond County magistrate on board, the officers were ready to go. The magistrate’s role is primary administrative; in this case, she input the court date within the laptop connected through Wi-Fi to a secure server. The magistrate also is tasked with providing the suspect’s condition of release.

Inside the vehicle, Skinner reviewed the machines were set up and in working order and that Miranda warnings were affixed to walls, in large print and in both English and Spanish. A person arrested for suspicion of DUI has between 15 and 30 minutes before they’re asked to breathe into the machine. If they refuse, it’s implied consent (read: an automatic “guilty” test result).

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com The Breath Alcohol testing Mobile Unit was on site to help expedite the legal process of suspected impaired drivers.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
The Breath Alcohol testing Mobile Unit was on site to help expedite the legal process of suspected impaired drivers.

Smith reviewed the following:

* If a person required a District Court date, use May 14;
* If a stop resulted in a DUI seizure, the court date must be set within 30 days – April 15 was the standard;
* Other, less serious offenses garnered a May 19 date in traffic court

“When you write a ticket, you don’t tell nobody how to get out of it,” Smith cautioned. “Let them figure it out.”

Safe Kids Coalition

Amy Hamilton-Forrester, outreach manager for FirstHealth Community Services in Richmond County, has one-track mind: to help kids be safer today than they were yesterday. Her job, in part, is to help parents and caregivers understand there’s a better than fair chance the carseat their child straps into each day is incorrectly installed.

During the briefing inside the courthouse, Hamilton-Forrester asked if each driver that needed assistance with car seats would be cited. She hoped to avoid any punitive measure, and Watson seemed to agree.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Amy Hamilton-Forrester, outreach manager for FirstHealth Community Services in Richmond County, helps to correctly install a carseat in the back of Tina Hood's vehicle for her 3-year-old granddaughter.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Amy Hamilton-Forrester, outreach manager for FirstHealth Community Services in Richmond County, helps to correctly install a carseat in the back of Tina Hood’s vehicle for her 3-year-old granddaughter.

“If you’re there,” Smith said to her regarding one of the three checkpoints, “we’ll send you over to educate them.”

But Cpl. Marcus Ricks, of the Rockingham Police Department, put another spin on the idea of safety. Give ’em a ticket, he said. There’s a system in place that, once given a citation, the family can get some help.

“That’s exactly why we’ve got a diversion program,” Ricks said.

The family can take that citation and go to the Rockingham Fire Department, among other places, to learn how to properly install a carseat — and make no mistake, it’s easier said than done.

Tina Hood, for one, didn’t find the process invasive at all. In fact, she welcomed the help. The Marston-area grandmother said she felt her 3-year-old granddaughter didn’t fit quite right in her carseat. Hamilton-Forrester proved her right.

“As far as I know, I had it correct,” Hood said. “But you never know. Better safe than sorry.”

Hamilton-Forrester explained how the carseat straps were not positioned correctly, creating discomfort for the blonde-haired little girl.

“When the straps aren’t in the right place, it’s not comfortable,” Hamilton-Forrester said, “then they don’t want to ride in a carseat.”

Hood said that if something were to happen to her granddaughter and she were to later learn it injury — or worse — could have been prevented, “I would feel bad.”

So bring on the expert, Hood said.

“More power to ’em.”

 

Filed in: Education, Featured News, Hoffman, Latest Headlines, News, Public safety, Rockingham

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