Impaired drivers, whether on land or sea, targeted over the holiday weekend

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Several law enforcement agencies gathered at the public access boat ramp in Wrightsville beach to announce the launch of their campaign to prevent impaired driving fatalities on the road and water. Photos by Christina Haley.
Several law enforcement agencies gathered at the public access boat ramp in Wrightsville Beach to announce the launch of their campaign to prevent impaired driving fatalities on the road and water. Photos by Christina Haley.

Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are banding together once again this Memorial Day weekend for a single purpose: to prevent injuries or death related to impaired driving, whether it be out on land or sea.

The N.C. State Highway Patrol and North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission held a press conference Tuesday at the public boat access in Wrightsville Beach, 109 Causeway Drive, to announce their campaign targeting impaired drivers on state roadways and waterways this weekend.

The “On the Road, On the Water, Don’t Drink & Drive” campaign is an enforcement and public outreach initiative that will post many sobriety checkpoints on state highways and near boating recreational venues. The goal of law enforcement it to prevent injuries and loss of life due to drinking and driving as well as promote public awareness. This will mark the sixth year of the campaign.

LaRonda Scott, the state executive director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said law enforcement will be watching the public to protect people and families from a “100 percent preventable crime.” Scott was one of several officials to speak at Tuesday’s press conference.

“Like MADDs, [law enforcement] has seen how impaired boating and driving impacts the community. How it crushes dreams, and how it devastates families,” Scott said.

Scott said the statistics of fatal incidents related to impaired driving are not just numbers, but are “names” and “faces” of lost potential.

“Choosing to operate a boat or a motor vehicle while you are impaired is selfish and is a criminal act. It’s not acceptable and they will be watching you,” Scott said.

District Attorney Ben David stands at the podium during Tuesday's press conference to talk about the penalties facing impaired drivers.
District Attorney Ben David stands at the podium during Tuesday’s press conference to talk about the penalties facing impaired drivers.

State authorities also echoed Scott’s words. District Attorney Ben David asked citizens to be utilize safe practices both on the water and the road – by doing a number of things from buckling up, keeping away from distractions such as texting and driving, keeping proper safety equipment on a boat to using a designated driver and refrain from driving while impaired.

“For all of us, we need to remember that impaired driving, whether it’s in a boat or a car, is no accident. And it’s treated as it should be as intentional conduct. At the end of the day these are choices,” David said. “We will do what we can to prevent the tragedies we see and we need the community’s help in becoming educated about what the dangers are and spreading the word to keep everyone safe.”

While speaking at the press conference on Tuesday, David mentioned the morning’s approaching first court appearance of 28-year-old Melissa Henderson, who was recently indicted on several felony charges in an impaired driving case that killed her 13-month-old son and injured her 2-year-old daughter. David said her case is a “classic example” of what the campaign aims to prevent.

“This is a young woman who was charged with very serious felonies,” David said about the case. “Parents owe a sacred duty to keep their children safe…and if you drive or operate a vehicle while impaired, that’s child abuse.”

If found guilty of the felony child abuse charges she faces, Henderson is facing long-term incarceration for that “choice,” David said. He noted the district attorney’s office has seen a “steady increase” in fatalities due to drug-related wrecks that don’t involve the consumption of alcohol.

According to statistics provided by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, one in every four vehicle and boating deaths is impairment-related. The state of North Carolina ranks tenth in the nation for boating fatalities. Out of 133 boating accidents investigated last year, 21 were fatal and resulted in 25 deaths.  Ten of the boating wrecks last year were the result of alcohol use, while the lack of a life vest was also a contributing factor in the loss of life.

“An informed public is an important part of this team and is key to getting us closer to our goal of having no more victims,” N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Capt. Todd Radabaugh said.

A local boater speaking to a law enforcement officer before heading out on the Intracoatal Waterway.
A local boater speaking to a law enforcement officer before heading out on the Intracoastal Waterway.

The N.C. State Highway Patrol is also urging citizens to alert authorities of impaired drivers they may see on the road. Citizens can dial “*47” to contact highway patrol. Troopers are asking for a description of both the vehicle and its operator, as well as the location and direction it’s headed so they can respond and remove the impaired driver from the roadway.

“I can think of no better place to spend a summer than the great state of North Carolina. From our beaches to the mountains, opportunities for outdoor recreation and family adventure are waiting for us all. With the upcoming weekend, the official start of summer, I hope we can all enjoy this time safely and without any fatal incidents in our state. Please do your part,” Radabaugh said.