CHP, Sonora adding DUI patrol

May 15, 2003 11:00 pm

By AMY LINDBLOM

Sonora police and California Highway Patrol officers have beefed up their efforts to catch drunken drivers in Tuolumne County.

Officials say that both agencies have more young, energetic officers patrolling the streets and they are charged with one mission — to stop people from driving drunk.

The numbers are up. In March and April, Sonora officers arrested 40 more drivers on suspicion of driving under the influence than for the same two months last year.

Of the 53 people arrested between March 1 and April 30 in the city limits, six of those were also driving without valid drivers licenses: They had been suspended for previous drunken-driving convictions.

In the same period last year, Sonora police arrested 10 people on drunken driving charges, and one of those had a suspended license.

CHP's arrest numbers are down a bit, but there were more second offenses. In March and April, the CHP arrested 49 people, compared to 56 in the same period last year. But this year, nine of the suspects had suspended licenses, and last year, only one did.

However, because of a federal grant, two more CHP officers will patrol Tuolumne County roads on Friday and Saturday nights. The effort started last weekend and will continue through Labor Day.

"They are only there to arrest drunk drivers," CHP Officer Tom Wills said.

After being short-staffed for a number of years, the Sonora Police Department has four new officers, making it just one person short of a full crew.

"We are attempting to lower our traffic collision rates through stepped-up enforcement," said Lt. Patrick Tonegato. "These are young, aggressive guys out trying to make Sonora safe. They keep their eye on anything that moves."

A longtime police department member, Tonegato said Sonora has the highest injury-accident rate among California cities of similar size and population, and has for as long as he can remember.