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home : news : local   May 24, 2016

1/3/2013 1:24:00 PM
La Salle County sets record low in DUIs last year

Peru police commander Shawn Andersen exhibits some of the paperwork and the Breathalyzer machine used when somebody is brought in for a DUI. La Salle County had a record low in DUI arrests in 2011, with 623 filings reported by the circuit clerk’s office. NewsTribune photo/Genna Ord
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Peru police commander Shawn Andersen exhibits some of the paperwork and the Breathalyzer machine used when somebody is brought in for a DUI. La Salle County had a record low in DUI arrests in 2011, with 623 filings reported by the circuit clerk’s office.

NewsTribune photo/Genna Ord
Tom Collins
NewsTribune Senior Reporter

Eric Schueler of Ottawa took his last steps following an alcohol-related accident in summer 1991, when he sustained a paralyzing neck injury in the flatbed of a friend’s pickup.
Since confined to a wheelchair, Schueler regularly speaks at victim-impact panels in which DUI survivors tell their stories to people busted for drunk-driving.
“I don’t consider myself a victim,” he tells audiences. “It doesn’t matter if you drink and drive or drink and ride — it’s the same thing.”
His message seems to have finally gotten through because drunk-driving is on the decline.
La Salle County set a record low in DUI arrests in 2012. The circuit clerk’s office reported 623 DUI filings last year, which marks an 11½-percent decline over the previous year and a decline of a quarter since 2008, when the county set an all-time high of 824 arrests.
The number of DUI deaths has fallen, too. The coroner’s office reported five such fatalities in 2012, down from 13 in 2008. Coroner Jody Bernard noted that alcohol, percentage-wise, remains a persistent cause of traffic deaths.
“I’m glad the DUIs have fallen,” Schueler said. “It’s something that doesn’t have to happen. Maybe the younger generation is being wiser than my generation.”
Police, prosecutors and defense attorneys all welcomed the decline but said there is no single, overriding reason for the decline in drunk-driving.
Peru police chief Doug Bernabei said he wasn’t surprised by the decline. Nationwide, police and lawmakers have stepped up both patrols and penalties. Drivers seem to have finally realized they will get caught and have to pay steep consequences.
“I think it’s because of the very aggressive, nationwide enforcement coupled with the very serious penalties for drunk-drivers,” Bernabei said. “It’s clearly reduced the number of intoxicated drivers out there.”
Motorists are instead drinking at home, getting rides from friends and designated drivers, or getting a lift from the taxi companies that have set up shop in recent years. Peru police say they now drive past the bars on Saturday mornings and see parked cars left by patrons who thought twice about driving and instead hitched rides home.
“People are finally getting it,” agreed La Salle County state’s attorney Brian Towne. “It’s finally sunk in that it’s better to just get a ride home.”
La Salle defense attorney Doug Kramarsic said he attributes the decline to the arrival of breath interlock devices, which now are required for first-time offenders who once were eligible for judicial driving permits.
The so-called “blow and go” requires a motorist to exhale into a device that keeps the car from starting if it detects an alcohol content of .025 (about one-third the legal limit) or higher. To keep drivers honest, the device also requires periodic breath samples once the car is in gear.
DUI arrests have, in fact, declined steadily since the devices became mandatory for first-time drivers in 2009. But Kramarsic said the implementation of devices doesn’t tell the full story.
“I also feel the economy has taken a toll,” he said. “When the economy was good, people were out at the bars and drinking after work, whereas now they’re drinking at home.”
When motorists do go out, they’re more willing to call for a taxi.
“We’ve been seeing an upswing since we offered 24-hour service,” said David Marino, a driver for City Cab in La Salle. “Our business has been up because more people are calling for cabs. It’s cheaper to call a cab than to get a DUI.”

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, January 4, 2013
Article comment by: METALWORKER

Maybe, but maybe all that means is that the local and county police are to busy working drug busts on the interstates to notice the weaving in town.
Perhaps a story compairing the number of drug busts compared to alcahol busts. Can any one do that?

Posted: Thursday, January 3, 2013
Article comment by: MotherEarthSpeaks

There are many other ways to celebrate and relieve stress other than drinking.
Learning to meditate, enjoying nature, and applying oneself to yoga and other life-enhancing practices can be the answer.
Enjoying friends and family without addictive drugs IS POSSIBLE.
This article seems to indicate that drinking is a given. The attorneys quoted in this article seem to be stuck in the same mind trap.
Time to wake up and change your habits.
Take the lead. Explore other activities and teach your children as well.

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