Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas brings back DUI checkpoints

The guy in the Johnny Cash T-shirt has the look of someone expecting the worst. He is oddly reserved as he is put through field sobriety tests, and seems only slightly disheartened when his hands are cuffed behind his back.

Had he been looking across the parking lot around that same time, he might have seen someone else's night also fall apart. As a young couple sit in their beat-up Toyota with the keys tossed on the roof by deputies, a half-filled Big Gulp cup is removed from the car. And then an empty bottle of Captain Morgan rum follows.

It is nearing 3 a.m. Saturday and authorities are wrapping up a sobriety checkpoint on northbound U.S. 19 between Curlew and Tampa roads.

They have been out here for more than five hours, and the final tally includes five DUI arrests and a handful of other assorted offenses.

And yet it is not the backlog at the jail door that tells the story of the night. It is the more than 300 vehicles that were stopped briefly and then allowed to proceed. It is the thousands of cars that drove through, or watched from the southbound lanes.

The checkpoint is as much about prevention as it is punishment. Deputies like to call it increased awareness, but the reality is that it's more of an implied threat.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office DUI squad is back in business, and those who drink and drive should understand what that means.

"We're out here to save lives. We're out here to prevent injuries,'' said Sgt. Howard Skaggs, who runs the squad. "There was a lot more of this problem on the streets that was not being addressed, and it's very important for us to go after it.''

Budget problems led former Sheriff Jim Coats to disband the DUI squad in 2008. The impact was immediate. Within a year, DUI arrests had fallen by nearly half and alcohol-related fatalities had almost doubled.

Months after his election last fall, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri reinstated the DUI squad to work overnight shifts Wednesday through Saturday.

"Once we survived all the trials and tribulations with the budget, it was very important for us to bring this back,'' said Chief Deputy George Steffen, who oversaw the checkpoint. "It was something (Gualtieri) felt very strongly about. He felt it was the right thing to do, he pushed hard for it and we did it.''

If there was any disagreement about the checkpoint Friday night, drivers kept it to themselves. Cars were randomly pulled over (every sixth car until 1 a.m., and then every third car after that) and a contact officer asked to see driver's licenses.

While licenses and plates were being run, the contact officer would carry on a conversation with the driver ("How was the concert?'' "You guys Lightning fans?'' "Are you just getting off work?'') to look for signs of impairment.

The average stop time was less than two minutes.

One driver was arrested when deputies discovered he was in a car with a woman, and two children, and he had an active domestic violence injunction against him.

Several were cited for driving with a suspended or revoked license. Instead of being arrested, most were given a notice to appear in court, and their car was impounded.

Even that was done as harmlessly as possible.

One woman walked straight from her impounded car to the back seat of a cab that was being held by deputies two lanes away.

Pinellas brings back DUI checkpoints 10/19/13 [Last modified: Saturday, October 19, 2013 8:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Two boys in critical condition after Largo crash

    Accidents

    LARGO — A 7-year-old boy was thrown from a car in a head-on crash on Starkey Road, and both he and a 6-year-old boy were in critical condition Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

  2. Trump's new order bars almost all travel from seven countries

    National

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a new order banning almost all travel to the United States from seven countries, including most of the nations covered by his original travel ban, citing threats to national security posed by letting their citizens into the country.

    President Donald Trump speaks to reporters Sunday upon his return to the White House in Washington.
  3. Somehow, Rays' Chris Archer remains just shy of being an ace

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — Chris Archer had another bad game Sunday.

    Chris Archer is sputtering to the finish line, his rough start on Sunday his fourth in his past five in which he hasn’t gotten past four innings.
  4. In Mexico City, hopes of finding quake survivors dwindle

    World

    MEXICO CITY — Five days after the deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake, the hulking wreckage of what used to be a seven-story office building is one of the last hopes: one of just two sites left where searchers believe they may still find someone trapped alive in Mexico City.

    Rescue workers search for survivors inside a felled office building in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City on Saturday.
  5. GOP health bill in major peril as resistance hardens among key senators

    National

    WASHINGTON — The floundering Republican attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act met hardening resistance from key GOP senators Sunday that left it on the verge of collapse even as advocates vowed to keep pushing for a vote this week.

    Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate, said Sunday that it was “very difficult” to envision voting for this health-care bill.