Saturday, January 20, 2018
Public safety

State grants help Tampa Bay police agencies crack down on drunken driving

TAMPA — When it comes to deadly alcohol-related crashes, Tampa is third in the state.

And in 2011, Hillsborough County reported 67 alcohol-related traffic fatalities — the most in Florida.

So just before the holidays, the Florida Department of Transportation sent money toward the problem. Tampa police and Hillsborough and Pasco county sheriff's offices each received grants that are paying for increased driving-under-the-influence patrols.

On New Year's Eve, DUI patrol officers saturated the streets. Tampa Officer Joe Sustek was one of them. He rolled through the streets of South Tampa near the Howard Avenue bars, and on the side streets of Ybor City. It was early evening, and though the drink special signs were up, the hard partying hadn't started.

Sustek has worked the night shift for nearly his entire 16-year career in law enforcement and knows a shift can change in an instant, particularly on a party night like New Year's Eve.

"You never know from one night to the next," said Sustek, 39.

Last fall, Tampa received about $127,000 from the FDOT, and Hillsborough got $145,000, which is paying for officers' overtime. Pasco won a similar grant.

The money will allow the agencies to increase their DUI patrol presence on historically busy weekends, such as spring break.

Hillsborough plans to use some of its grant for an education campaign aimed at underage drinking. The Pasco State Attorney's Office also received a grant to pay for a DUI prosecutor.

According to its grant application, the Tampa Police Department hopes to increase DUI arrests by 5 percent and decrease DUI-related crashes by 10 percent over a nine-month period.

The agency has 15 designated DUI patrol officers who work four-day shifts. They look for drunken drivers and can be called as backup when a regular patrol officer suspects impairment.

Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said the agency hopes the patrols will decrease crashes and encourage people to seek other options, like a cab.

"It's so preventable," she said. "And there are so many resources, there's no excuse."

According to Tampa police, the majority of DUI-related crashes involve someone with a blood-alcohol level near 0.08, the level at which the state presumes impairment.

Very high blood-alcohol levels are found infrequently, Davis said.

"Most are what you'd consider 'buzzed driving,' " she said. "You think that you're okay because you've only had a couple of drinks over a couple hours."

Tampa Bay has several cab companies, and AAA offers free towing on holidays, a service called "Tow to Go."

"Or just call a friend," Davis said. "Just don't drink and drive."

Meanwhile, Sustek, the Tampa police officer, was spending his night shift looking out for cars with no headlights or cars that ran stop signs, made wide turns, used no signals.

He was ready for a variety of excuses and explanations, including one he has heard a lot lately: "I only had half a beer."

Sustek made only one drunken driving arrest last New Year's Eve — the driver had been in a crash — and said his busiest holiday sometimes turns out to be St. Patrick's Day.

Still, he didn't want his loved ones to take chances. He told his oldest son, a college student, to stay off the roads Monday night.

Staff writer Jodie Tillman contributed to this report.

Comments

Motorcyclist crashes into Subaru while trying to flee Pinellas deputies

CLEARWATER — A 21-year-old fleeing from deputies on a motorcycle crashed into car while speeding away from a cruiser Friday, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Michael Brown, of Clearwater, was recklessly driving his 2016...
Updated: 2 minutes ago

DUNEDIN — A 60-year-old Clearwater man who likely had a medical episode while driving is now in the hospital with life-threatening injuries after rolling over his car, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.A Largo police officer noticed a...
Updated: 14 minutes ago

Four people linked to Tampa carjacking captured hours later

TAMPA — It took officers just 27 minutes Friday night to capture four people who they said stole a car from its owner.The incident started outside the Ybor Coffee Shop at 5:45 a.m. A group approached the driver as he sat in his 2010 Toyota Corolla. T...
Published: 01/19/18

Florida National Guard soldier killed, five injured in Sebring crash

SEBRING — A soldier with the Florida National Guard was killed and five others were hospitalized after a multi-vehicle crash on Friday, officials said.The crash took place at about 1 p.m. at the intersection of U.S. 27 and Hammock Road.The soldiers ...
Published: 01/19/18
Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

NEW PORT RICHEY — Two New Port Richey men face charges after Pasco County deputies say they stole about $11,000 worth of cellphones and cellphone equipment at a Metro PCS store on State Road 54.Robert Jackson and Ronald Hartshorn were arrested Wednes...
Published: 01/19/18
Autopsy: drugs found in MLB star Roy Halladay’s system after plane crash

Autopsy: drugs found in MLB star Roy Halladay’s system after plane crash

When former Major League Baseball pitcher Roy Halladay died in a plane crash in November, he had amphetamines, morphine and the sleep aid zolpidem in his system, according to an autopsy report. Halladay, 40, died from blunt force trauma with drownin...
Published: 01/19/18
Former youth football president accused of stealing $29,000 from Pinellas league

Former youth football president accused of stealing $29,000 from Pinellas league

PALM HARBOR — The former president of a local youth football league is accused of stealing thousands of dollars from the group and using it in part to buy a mobile home.According to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, deputies on Tuesday arrested L...
Published: 01/19/18
Rapper Kodak Black arrested in Florida on grand theft, other charges

Rapper Kodak Black arrested in Florida on grand theft, other charges

FORT LAUDERDALE — Rapper Kodak Black has been ordered held without bail in Florida on seven felony charges that include child neglect and drug possession.The Broward Sheriff’s Office arrested the 20-year-old rapper, whose real name is Dieuson Octave,...
Published: 01/19/18
DUI arrest: Tampa man mistakes bank drive-through for Taco Bell

DUI arrest: Tampa man mistakes bank drive-through for Taco Bell

SPRING HILL — A 38-year-old Tampa man was arrested Wednesday on a charge of driving under the influence involving drugs or alcohol after deputies said he mistook a Bank of America drive-through for a Taco Bell.The branch manager of the Mariner Boulev...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Police presence at Martin Luther King Jr. Day after-party raises ire

Police presence at Martin Luther King Jr. Day after-party raises ire

ST. PETERSBURG — One after another, speakers stepped to the lectern at City Hall on Thursday and described the same image: police cruisers on every corner in Midtown, uniformed officers lined up across the roadway, souring what should have been a joy...
Published: 01/18/18