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DUI arrests up near UA

KEVIN KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tucson police charge a driver with driving under the influence on Jan. 31. The number of Tucson Police Department arrests for drunken driving around the university have increased during the past year.
By Devin Simmons
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday February 11, 2003

It started out as a simple evening at Bradley Johnston's apartment last year a night of friends, drinking and having fun.

But the fun came to an end when his car flipped over and rolled into a wash, critically injuring one of the occupants.

That night Johnston received his second DUI.

"I was in shock," Johnston said. "My whole life flashed before my eyes. I knew I wasn't dead, but thinking about all the consequences I would face, it felt like I was."

Johnston, 20, had plans to go to college but instead spent eight months in prison. He was released last week and is now on parole.

Arrests for driving under the influence rose 24 percent last year, from 2,574 reports in 2001 to 3,180 in 2002, according to Tucson Police Department statistics.

Twenty-two percent of the 2002 reports came from the area surrounding the university, on roads like East Sixth Street, North Fourth Avenue, East Fifth Street and North Euclid Avenue. Fifty-one reports in 2002, including one fatality, came from North Fourth Avenue, a popular nightspot for UA students because it's populated by bars and clubs.

The UA Police Department does not have a designated DUI officer, but did make 41 DUI arrests last year, said Commander Kevin Haywood.

"The department has always been attentive to (drunken) driving issues. UAPD officers regularly take part in the Southern Arizona DUI Task Force," Haywood said. The task force is a collaboration between regional departments that catch drunken drivers during most holidays.

It's difficult to determine, without looking at every report, just how many of those DUIs involved UA students, Haywood said.

A random survey released by UA Campus Health, which appeared in last week's Wildcat, claimed that 85 percent of UA students did not drink and drive in the past 30 days.

"Obviously there is room for improvement," said Lynn Reyes, a prevention specialist for Campus Health. "But we are very proud that a majority of students are being responsible when drinking."

Campus Health is working with the Southern Arizona DUI Task Force to make a brochure that will inform students of a new law on the books. The law, which went into effect on Aug. 21, 2002, states "no person under the age 21 is to have any spirituous liquor in their body," according to Reyes.

Under the new law, for example, any underage person coming back from legally drinking in Mexico is susceptible to being cited once they cross the border even if they are not driving, Reyes said.

"This law closes a loophole in the system," Reyes said. "Hopefully this will force people to think before they drink, which will make our roads more safe."

A violation of the law would count as a class-two misdemeanor and result in a $750 fine or possibly up to four months in jail, Reyes said.

However, in spite of all that has been done to raise student awareness of the penalties for breaking the law, students say drunken driving continues.

"Sometimes I have to take that chance and drive home," said Lucas Holland, an economics junior. "No one else will give me a ride home."

Tim Hutchings, a business management junior, said that the number of bars and their proximity to where students live play a large part in students taking a chance.

"It's so close so it seems like no big deal," Hutchings said. "When I leave the bar it's not that I am deathly afraid, but watching out for other drivers is always a thought in my mind. You just never know when someone is going to come across that line and run into you."

Students use a number of different techniques to remain safe while drinking, such as using designated drivers, arranging somewhere to stay if they get too drunk, having everyone come to their house, taking a taxi or walking home.

Campus Health promotes a number of services that work to make the streets safer and protect students from drinking related accidents.

One of those programs is "Lifeline," a service organized by Campus Health and the Associated Students of the University of Arizona.

Under the Lifeline program, students who have had too much to drink can get a taxi ride courtesy of Campus Health. Passes for the free ride can be picked up at Campus Health, and are valid all hours of the day, Reyes said.

"The problem with alcohol is that it is a substance that fools the brain," Reyes said. "It makes us think that we are less impaired then we actually are, and that's when devastating things can happen."

For Johnston, the goal is to get his life back on track. He plans to return to school next semester, and is contemplating volunteering his time at Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

He is on parole and even the slightest slip-up will land him right back in prison.

"It is so easy to misuse alcohol," Johnston said. "I did, and now I feel like I am walking on eggshells. I have to be so careful. It feels like I don't have any control over my own life."

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