By ERIN MAYES
One driver was arrested at a DUI checkpoint set up between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. Saturday night on eastbound Mono Way between Sanguinetti and Greenley roads.
"We asked (the California Highway Patrol central office) for this one because of the high fatality rate this year," said CHP Officer Tom Wills.
No checkpoint had been planned this year due to state budget cuts, Wills said. But the deaths of 24 people on Tuolumne County roads so far this year compared to 21 in all of 2002 justified a checkpoint on what Wills said is the "biggest holiday" of the year as far as drinking and driving goes: Labor Day weekend.
"It's the end of summer the big last fling," he said.
The CHP operated Saturday's checkpoint with the Sonora Police Department, which has been cracking down on drunken drivers. So far this year, the department has arrested 145 people on drunken driving charges, compared to a total 87 in 2002.
"Their guys have just been really going out and being aggressive," Wills said. "We're really out here pushing to get the DUI accident rate down, get the DUI death rate down."
Officers set up two long lines of orange cones for vehicles to stay within and stopped each car to ask drivers if they'd been drinking that night.
A "contact officer" spoke with the drivers and gave each a brochure about DUI checkpoints while a "cover officer" stood on the passenger side of the car to make sure no one had a weapon or was hiding liquor.
If drivers acknowledged that they had been drinking, officers had them pull into a nearby parking lot for a field sobriety test. This involved having them stand on one foot or count fingers, among other tests.
If they passed, they were free to go. If not, they were arrested and taken to jail.
Drivers did have a chance to escape the checkpoint by turning right on to Sanguinetti Road after spotting police lights, Wills said. The law requires they provide an "out" for drivers because forcing them to go through checkpoints with no warning is considered entrapment.