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Police Plan Extra Drunk Driving Enforcement for St. Patrick's Day

Columbus most likely will be a magnet for revelers this weekend. Saint Patrick's Day will draw crowds to pubs and bars on Saturday. The NCAA play-offs will also add to center-city congestion. Both events may mean more drinking and alcohol-related traffic accidents for law enforcement to deal with.

The day-to-day accidents that drinking drivers cause are already bad enough according to Carl Booth, head of the Franklin County DUI Task Force.

"On average nearly 4 alcohol-related crashes occur in Franklin County on a daily basis," Booth says. "Yearly we kill 26 people and injure over 800 people in alcohol-related crashes in Franklin County alone."

To catch drunk drivers this weekend, local police departments will step up enforcement. 22 of Franklin County's smaller police departments and the Franklin County Sheriff's Department make up the task force. Its director Carl Booth says he thinks the combination of St. Patrick's Day and the NCAA basketball tournament this weekend will mean more alcohol-related traffic accidents. That's why the task force is spending between $8,000 and $10,000 on overtime this weekend. Officers will specifically target drunk, erratic and aggressive drivers through so-called saturation patrols. The Columbus Division of Police will employ its own stepped up enforcement using extra officers on the city's freeways. Police spokeswoman Amanda Ford.

"Typically they're easier to patrol in one sense just because people are driving from the suburbs downtown," Ford says. "Typically that's where a lot of our impaired drivers are picked up."

Last year task force participants made 40 St. Patrick's Day drunk driving arrests; the Columbus police made 20. The state director of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, Doug Scoles, says some people question how effective these sorts of efforts are.

"They question, 'Well we only caught so many people,'" says Doug Scoles. "It does a whole lot more to prevent and deter. When you announce we're going to have stepped up enforcement, we're going to have sobriety checkpoints, we're going to be out there looking for drunk drivers, they'll make plans to have a designated driver. They'll look for another way home than drive behind the wheel of a car."

At a Wednesday press conference the task force's Carl Booth said a sobriety checkpoint would be set up Saturday night on East Main in Whitehall. That's in spite of a 2004 governor's task force report that found saturation patrolling more effective.

Booth says the checkpoint will honor Caitlin Leasure, a 20-year-old Otterbein College student who was killed by a drunk driver in Florida one year ago. On Wednesday her sister Nicole read from a statement.

"I pray that someone here today does not rely on the luck of the Irish to bring him or her home safely, she said. "As you take that drink and think about driving, remember my sister Caitlin. Remember the hell my family must now live with. And remember that your choice to be stupid is absolutely dead wrong."

Columbus police won't say how many officers will be working overtime this weekend. The task force says it's paying for 330 hours of overtime for its members. They'll concentrate enforcement efforts between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday.