Despite best efforts, DUI still a problem
Here’s an example of how alcohol is embedded in our culture.
Ten days after 7-year-old Donovan Maldonado was killed going home from football practice by a suspected drunken driver in northeast Fresno, a local nonprofit will hold a Beer Olympics at the Crossroads bar.
The beneficiary of the fundraiser: children who need help paying fees to join athletic teams.
The Beer Olympics, if you don’t know, consist of drinking games such as beer pong, beer chug and beer crawl.
“I saw a need because it’s getting so expensive to play sports,” said Jackie Reyna, who founded Sanger-based All League Inc. in January. “The kids that we sponsor are required to attend an anti-bullying course and a nutrition class.”
How did Reyna settle on Beer Olympics for its first fundraiser?
“I was at a bar and saw beer pong. There’s also the timing with the Olympics going on,” she said. “The intent isn’t for people to get wasted.
“We’re also going to do a golf tournament.”
I saw the poster for the event the day after Donovan was killed and his father and 18-month-old sister were seriously injured.
My blood boiled.
Upon reflection, I calmed down. Many nonprofits serve alcohol at events. Some even provide all-you-can-drink wristbands, and no one says a word. And they’re not forcing anyone to drink.
The bigger story is that despite DUI checkpoints and the efforts of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the carnage continues.
There have been 12 traffic fatalities in Fresno this year. Four of them involved alcohol, police say.
More surprising, perhaps, is that drunken driving arrests are climbing. There were exactly 1,700 arrests the first six months of the year — a pace that would give our city its highest total since 2002.
This trend continues what happened in 2011, when arrests climbed 5% to 2,878.
Back in 2010, Men’s Health magazine declared Fresno the drunkest city in America, based partly on the number of drunken driving arrests. Some people — including me — surmised that Police Chief Jerry Dyer’s aggressive checkpoint program distorted the picture.
Six months later, six people were killed on Highway 99 when a woman under the influence crashed an SUV and was slammed into by a Greyhound bus.
Now, little Donovan is killed and his father and 18-month-old sister are injured crossing a street on a summer night. Lives are shattered. A community is saddened. Some people whisper, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
I asked Fresno police Lt. Tony Bennink whether the increased DUI arrests reflected more aggressive enforcement or more drunks on the road.
“I would have to say more drunks, to be honest with you,” Bennink said. “We’ve had just about the same number of DUI checkpoints. But we’re down to 65 motorcycle officers from a high of 80. We’ve taken some (budget) cuts.”
People are going to drink. What needs to change is people then getting behind the wheel.
Reyna says that Sober Guys Inc. will be available to provide rides at the Beer Olympics. Sober Guys is one of several local firms driving people home in their own cars. Its motto is “cheaper than a DUI,” and it charges $35 for a ride anywhere in Fresno and Clovis.
Michael Wukits, who manages the Fresno branch of Designated Driver Inc., another ride service, says that keeping people safe is what drew him to the job.
“It’s a shame what happened to that child the other night,” Wukits says. “It’s sad to see someone make that choice when it could have been 100% preventable.
“This is not a big money-making thing for us. It’s something you feel good about doing.”
You can be sure that Loren LeBeau, who is accused of killing Donovan, wishes he had called a cab, a friend or a ride service Wednesday night.
A copy of the child’s death certificate should be affixed to the door of every bar and restaurant in town.