By ERIC TICHY
Special to the OBSERVER
MAYVILLE - Some area residents are toasting in the New Year a bit early, and often. Then driving.
In fact, police agencies in Chautauqua County have made a slew of arrests involving drunken driving. Many of the accidents have resulted in property damage.
And that's just in the last two weeks.
According to recent police reports, there have been at least 16 arrests made since Dec. 16 involving driving while intoxicated charges in the county. All arrests include more than one charge, and several include numerous traffic and safety violations.
It's enough to make any law enforcement official cringe.
"These drivers endanger everybody, not just themselves," said Robert Samuelson, captain of the Jamestown Police Department. "Our officers are always on alert no matter what time of the day it is and we are always looking for impaired driving."
Samuelson said the spike in recent DWI arrests is the combination of the holidays - where alcohol consumption increases - and aggressive patrols from police agencies.
"I think it does have to do with the holidays," he said. "I think over time the number of arrests have dropped, but I think the recent increase is due to our aggressive police enforcement."
A tally of recent arrests highlight a hike in the number of impaired drivers in Chautauqua County.
Consider the following:
A Mayville man was arrested for leaving the scene of a property damage accident after wrecking his vehicle and taking off. Police found the 23-year old intoxicated and booked him on a flurry of charges.
A 26-year old Fredonia woman was arrested on drunken driving charges after police noticed she did not signal a turn in the village of Brocton. Police found an open beer can in her vehicle, as well as an expired and revoked driver's license.
A Westfield resident crashed not once but twice in the city of Jamestown, both times fleeing the scene. Officers eventually found the intoxicated driver, charging him with two counts of leaving the scene of an accident, as well as aggravated DWI.
A Hamburg woman was found to have a blood alcohol content level over twice the legal limit after police say she crashed her vehicle into a tree off the roadway on Foote Avenue in Jamestown.
Then there's the Jamestown man recently arrested for numerous traffic violations and outstanding warrants. Police stopped Michael A. C. Davis, 28, for driving erratically on Forest Avenue Extension. Davis was found to be intoxicated and driving on a suspended non-driver identification.
Davis also was found to have an open container of alcohol in his vehicle at the time of the stop. He was arrested on numerous charges, including outstanding warrants by the Chautauqua County Family Court and City of Jamestown Court.
"I do think there is a drinking problem in Chautauqua County," said Patricia Munson, Chautauqua Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Council executive director. The council, located in Jamestown, provides alcohol and drug information, among other services.
Munson wasn't surprised to hear the number of DWI arrests within the last two weeks. "To be honest I've lost track (of the arrests)," she said. "During the holidays people who are social drinkers may not realize what a couple of drinks will do to them."
According to AAA, alcohol impaired drivers make up about one-third of all motor vehicle deaths, with at least one death attributed to drunken driving every 45 minutes. Furthermore, impaired-driving crashes cost the U.S. more than $50 billion annually in medical and insurance costs.
The automobile association said more than two out of every three people who die in an alcohol-related crash are drivers with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher. Evening hours and weekends see the highest number of accidents and deaths involving impaired driving.
"I think drinking is a problem all over, and we're just talking about social drinkers that leads to impaired driving," Munson said. "I'm not even talking about people who know they have a problem."
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