Don't Drink & Drive
MERCEDES – At the Hidalgo and Cameron county line, two district attorneys along with several members of the law enforcement community stood in unity as they detailed an easy campaign with three major topics. Drink, drive, go to jail.
Seems simple enough but unfortunately, and ironically it would seem, it is not.
“To be blunt,” Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez said. “We need to stop killing each other.”
Rodriguez and Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz have had many discussions about how to effectively encourage people to make responsible choices. Their goal is to convince people to designate a driver or use a transportation service like ride sharing or taxi to get to and from their respective events.
But someone will get behind the wheel of a vehicle and they will drink and drive. The consequences will range from arrests and potential jail time to injuring someone, or the ultimate, taking a life.
Saenz made it clear, it is not up to the law enforcement officials to tell someone whether to drink or not. They will not pass judgement.
“When you drink and get behind the wheel, that is my business, that is DPS business and the business of these fine folks,” Saenz said. “The message is not new yet we can't seem to get people to follow it.”
Close to Home
The campaign falls at the heels of two fatalities where first responders were victims. A communications officer for the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office died when her vehicle was hit by a suspected drunk driver. Sandra Coronado was on her way to work at 6 a.m. when the crash happened on Interstate I69 in front of the Bert Ogden Arena.
Another first responder with the Hidalgo County EMS (not an official county company) Felipe Huerta, 32, was transporting a patient when a truck driven by a suspected drunk driver crashed head on to the ambulance killing him at the scene. Huerta's partner, Andrea Rodriguez remains in critical condition but the patient Rodriguez was attending, 68-year-old Delia Cortines died as well.
“It is a coincidence, even with the planning of this event, we have lost two members of the public safety community to drunk driving,” Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra said. “Even though every life is very very important, every single men and women in uniform, including the district attorneys, it hurts us when we lose somebody to a drunk driver.”
Guerra continued it hurts even more when it is someone that works in public safety.
While the holiday periods for most counties across Texas yields “No Refusal” periods, Cameron County enacts the program year round. Currently Hidalgo County is testing a year round “No Refusal” during Labor Day and hopes to expand to year round through their 34 law enforcement agencies in the near future.
“No Refusal” allows law enforcement to obtain a search warrant from a judge for a blood alcohol content blood draw from a suspected drunk driver if they refuse a breathalyzer test.
Cameron county has seen success since the campaign's inception in 2015 with over 1,000 arrests per year. While the short term goal of the initiative is to take impaired drivers off the streets, the long term goal is to deter them from repeating the mistake of drinking and driving.
As per Hidalgo County, Rodriguez said he has seen the numbers decrease minimally but that is due to the fact law enforcement is doing their job effectively.
At the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s office Rodriguez has a victim's unit where they will be guided as to what they can seek in damages and monies that might be needed for funeral expenses, changing from one house to another, etc. For more information on crime victims assistance call (956) 292-7600.
“There are so many things that our office has provided fortunately to the victims or the victims families,” Rodriguez said.
The message will continue until everyone is blue in the face. Don't drink and drive. Don't drink and drive. Maybe one day, someone will listen.