Too much drinking can have painful consequences, and far too often during the holiday season drinking and driving become a deadly combination.
Thanks to a grant, there are going to be lots of extra patrols from TPD, from Thursday through Sunday. And it's not just around the holidays, but all year long, cracking down on DUI's.
We rode along with TPD Thursday night and the sun hadn't even set yet, and already we were stopping for a double DUI accident.
It's definitely not the way you want your Christmas holiday to go, handcuffed and stuffed into a police cruiser and charged with DUI.
"The person that's in the passenger seat switched seats with her and was in the driver's seat when the officers got here," said Sgt. Raymond Fernandez with TPD who heads their DUI Unit.
Before sundown Thursday, the unit was already hopping.
"Is he going to Himes and Spruce? 10-4," said Fernandez as we sped-off to a double DUI incident.
The driver failed her field sobriety test. Plus, the woman who was riding with her was passed out in the passenger seat.
"Are you ok? Were you sleeping?" Sgt. Fernandez asked her.
She slurred her words, and we learned both women are severely impaired from what police believe are prescription drugs.
"In the City of Tampa, on the average year, we arrest about 2,000 people for DUI," Fernandez said. "We have about 250 DUI-related crashes, on average about 10 to 12 DUI-related fatalities."
The Florida Department of Transportation gave the city a grant, so there will be at least a dozen officers dedicated to DUI Thursday through Sunday night, all year long. And Sgt. Fernandez said he's heard every excuse in the book from the best of 'em.
"Probably the best one I ever heard was a guy stopped up on 275, driving a box truck and he told me he was a paraplegic, and that he couldn't do field sobriety exercises, even though he was standing there talking to me and he said it was hereditary. It ran in his family. His mother and his father were both paraplegics," said Fernandez wryly.
Tampa is No. 2 in Florida for DUI-related injury crashes, which is a stat Darlene Carothers knows all too well. Her son, Mike, was killed on Christmas Eve back in 1998 by a drunk driver, while he was riding in a car with friends.
"Was going about 80 miles an hour and rear-ended them, no one else was injured in that crash, just my son was killed instantly," said Carothers sadly. "I had just come back from church. I was dressed in a Christmas dress. I had Christmas carols on."
That's when the Florida Highway Patrol came knocking at her door, and she said she's never woken up from the bad dream.
"Well, I haven't put up a tree since," she said. "It's just a part of me died when he died that day."
Carothers said if you go to a Christmas party, do not drink and drive. It's not worth it to ruin your life and someone else's. She said she never wants to see anyone suffer the way she has.
Back on the streets, there is no rest for the DUI unit.
"We've already had requests for two DUI units, a double DUI, and we're going to a rollover vehicle crash, so starting out pretty busy," said Fernandez.
"Merry Christmas," we said.
"Yeah, merry Christmas," said Fernandez.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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