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County law enforcement agencies announce program to deter Labor Day drunk driving

 Kenda

By J.J. Smith. Rockwall County Criminal District Attorney Kenda Culpepper and law enforcement agencies from across Rockwall County held a joint news conference Aug. 20 to announce a new pilot program designed to deter more people from driving drunk on County streets and highways over the Labor Day weekend.

Between Labor Day and New Year’s Day is traditionally the period when the most drivers are arrested for driving while intoxicated.   

Culpepper explained that individuals who are arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated over the Labor Day weekend and who refuse either a breath or blood sample will now be required by a court order to provide a blood sample.

She said the new “2009 Labor Day No Refusal Weekend” program will finally provide the district attorney’s office with the scientific evidence they need to convict a drunk driver in a trial. The program will run from Midnight, Sept. 4, to 5 pm, Sept. 8.

“Most people know that when a police officer has probable cause to believe that a person is driving while intoxicated, the suspect is asked to take a breath or blood test,” she said. “In the past, if the driver refused that test, we had to go to trial without scientific evidence to show that they were over the legal limit.”

“Now, jurisdictions across the state are getting evidentiary warrants to draw the person’s blood if they refuse, so that it can be scientifically tested and used in trial. Rockwall County is now joining the growing number of jurisdictions who are implementing this program.”

Law enforcement agencies involved in the program are the Rockwall, Rowlett, Royse City and Wylie Police Departments, Heath Department of Public Safety, Rockwall County Sheriff’s Office, Rockwall County Constables,  Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which patrols Lake Ray Hubbard.   

According to Culpepper, the District Attorney’s Office is buying 50 blood-draw kits from the Texas Department of Public Safety and will distribute them to participating agencies for their use during the weekend program.  The Office will also provide training for law enforcement officers and supervisors regarding the blood draw warrants and procedures. 

LakePointe and Presbyterian Hospitals have agreed to provide trained phlebotomists to draw blood at the hospital throughout the weekend, the DA said. 

Rockwall Municipal Judge Cathy Penn and Rowlett Municipal Judge Belinda Loveland have agreed to stay on 24-hour call to consider the approval of the blood draw warrants. 

Two prosecutors from the DA’s Office, Suzanne Fichtel and Tiffant Quindt, will be on 24-hour call to answer any questions, plus have agreed to work without overtime compensation in order to make the program a success.    

The Rockwall County Commissioner’s Court has agreed to reimburse the cities for the judges’ overtime costs.

Culpepper stressed that drivers pulled over for possible DUIs and DWIs will not be unnecessarily detained.

“I have heard concerns that this will cause a person to be unnecessarily detained.  However, I would stress that the officer will seek a warrant only after he has already developed probable cause to arrest the individual.  Officers will continue to offer suspects the opportunity to consent to the test.  This program does not add an additional time in detention, it just allows us to strengthen the evidence we can take to trial,” she said.

“One of the most important jobs I have, and one I take very seriously, is the protection of the public. I truly believe that if we can get the message out about the blood draw weekend, it will deter people from driving while intoxicated and/or encourage them to have a designated driver.” 

“It is important that the community knows how serious Rockwall County is about keeping intoxicated people off our streets and our waterways. It is notable that DPS and the Sheriff’s Office have agreed to offer Texas Parks and Wildlife additional support throughout the weekend to keep a presence on Lake Ray Hubbard.”  

“Rockwall County has dedicated law enforcement personnel, and I am proud of the job they do for our community,“ she concluded.

Rockwall Police Chief Mark Moeller expressed appreciation for the Culpepper’s hard work with this new program.

“We all appreciate Kenda’s leadership. It’s a well-coordinated, great effort!”

Heath Public Safety Chief Terry Garrett said he’s enthused about this new tool to work with and thinks the prosecution of DWIs should be tougher and tougher.

“Texas led the nation in 2007 in fatality accidents, you know.”

Royse City Police Chief said he is pleased to have more evidence which will make convictions easier.

Lake Pointe Medical Center president Carolyn Jackson said it’s a great initiative which the hospital’s staff has been helping Rowlett Police with during the past two years.

“It’s been very successful in Rowlett. This is an easy way for us to help law enforcement.”

For more information, call the Rockwall County District Attorney’s Office at 972-204-6800.

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