Hillsborough's DUI enforcement focuses on key areas but is widespread

In New Tampa, patrons at a pool hall have dubbed a stretch of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard "the gauntlet" because of the police presence. In Brandon, a popular sports bar recently contracted with a scooter company to drive intoxicated customers home. And in Town 'N Country, Hillsborough County Sheriff's DUI deputies make sure they monitor that portion of the county every single night. These three communities in Hillsborough share the same distinction: They registered among the highest number of DUI arrests last year.

In 2009, Tampa police made 195 DUI-related arrests in New Tampa, making it the highest in the city. This northeastern suburb was followed by Courier City-Oscawana, which ranked second in DUI arrests with 182.

In the county, Brandon led with 412 DUI-related arrests by the Sheriff's Office, followed by Town 'N Country with 226.

"Years ago, DUI was not taken very seriously," said Stephen Blesofsky, a Sun City Center resident who teaches local DUI education classes to drivers arrested for DUI-related offenses. "A lot of times, the courts kind of dismissed it. But as the bodies began to pile up, along with injuries and deaths, I would certainly say it's being taken more seriously."

New Tampa's situation differs from that of Brandon and Town 'N Country. Its web of master-planned residential communities is divided into odd slices. Some roads are patrolled by the Sheriff's Office, others by the Police Department; some communities are in the city, across the street may be in the unincorporated county.

There are fewer officers per capita than other areas in New Tampa because it doesn't have the same level of major crime, said police Chief Jane Castor.

Patrol officers staged in the neighborhood concentrate on the main source of concern and complaints in New Tampa, which is traffic, Castor said.

It is widely known that police tend to saturate the roads there, especially Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, the only major artery running through the community.

At Peabody's Billiards & Games, a Tampa Palms pool hall, Bruce B. Downs Boulevard is known as "the gauntlet" for its police gantlet.

"(Patrons) don't say anything about the gauntlet until they get caught … and it happens all the time," said manager Ian Peabody. "Obviously, we're a drinking spot, so we're very popular. Everybody has to be very careful."

Second on the Police Department's list in DUI-related arrests is Courier City-Oscawana, which is just east of south Howard Avenue. The community had a little more than 1,500 residents, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. It is considered part of the SoHo area, which includes several South Tampa bars.

Meanwhile, in the sheriff's jurisdiction, Brandon and Town 'N Country are listed as hot spots in DUI-related crashes and arrests.

There were 2,720 DUI incidents in 2009, with 509 DUI crashes, Sheriff David Gee said. And the Sheriff's Office made 1,181 arrests, or 43 percent of the total, within 1,000 feet of a DUI-related crash.

A lot of these DUI crashes occur in Brandon and Town 'N Country. They both have major east-west thoroughfares and are on routes out of Tampa and its nightspots in Ybor City.

"That's just where we get most of our crashes," said Gee, though he noted that DUI crashes are down from five years ago.

In Brandon, Barnacles, a popular sports bar, recently contracted with a company called Zingos to drive impaired patrons home.

Zingo drivers have small foldable scooters and drive patrons home in their own cars. Then the Zingo driver retrieves the scooter from the trunk and motors back to the bar for the next client.

In Florida, bars that sell or serve alcohol are not liable for injuries or damages caused by drunken drivers in most cases.

Even so, Barnacles purchased 20 rides and so far has had to use the service twice, said office manager Will Miranda.

The Sheriff's Office sends out DUI squads to all reaches of the county each night, said sheriff's Sgt. William Porter. On any given evening, the agency has at least 14 DUI officers on patrol.

"Whenever we have an area that has a high number of alcohol-related accidents, we hang around that area even more in attempt to curb that," Porter said.

DUI deputies will conduct checkpoints in those areas at least once a month. Calmer neighborhoods might get a checkpoint once every few months.

Town 'N Country gets monitored every night. "We drive up and down the streets," said Porter, who has had six deputies hit by drunken drivers while on duty. "We take it very seriously. We like to save lives."

Times staff writers Justin George and Richard Danielson contributed to this article. Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or nguyen@sptimes.com.

Top 3 spots for 2009 DUI arrests

Brandon: 412

Town 'N Country: 226

New Tampa: 195*

*Figure does not include small area of New Tampa outside City of Tampa limits

Hillsborough's DUI enforcement focuses on key areas but is widespread 04/08/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 8, 2010 3:39pm]

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