More drunken drivers arrested during this year’s DUI campaign

Gilroy
– Local law enforcement officers arrested more drunken drivers
this holiday season than last, but there were fewer crashes over
the New Year’s weekend.
By Lori Stuenkel

Gilroy – Local law enforcement officers arrested more drunken drivers this holiday season than last, but there were fewer crashes over the New Year’s weekend.

The Gilroy Police Department made 22 arrests for driving under the influence between Dec. 17 and Jan. 2, two more than the 20 arrests during last year’s annual campaign to prevent drinking and driving. Six of those arrests were made between New Year’s Eve night and New Year’s Day, the largest single-day total for the department this year.

The California Highway Patrol arrested 34 drunken drivers in the Gilroy/Hollister area during Santa Clara County’s yearly “Avoid the 13” effort against DUI offenders, one less than the 2003-04 holiday season. Thirteen of the arrests were made this weekend, compared to nine last year.

There were 15 crashes in the area – down from 18 last year – and two of them were alcohol-related, which is unchanged from 2003-04.

In Santa Clara County, DUI arrests were down sharply from last year: 645, compared to 868. There were three alcohol-related fatalities, however, when there were none last year, according to Vic Heman, Avoid the 13 spokesman.

The CHP, police, and Sheriff’s Office deployed more officers for the 17 days of the campaign and held sobriety checkpoints to deter and catch drunken drivers. Sheriff’s deputies held a checkpoint New Year’s Eve, on Monterey Highway just south of Masten Avenue. The department made seven DUI arrests that night, and 52 during the holiday season.

CHP Officer Matt Ramirez said this year’s numbers had the potential to be even higher, since Christmas and New Year’s both fell on the weekend.

“More people having the day off, I expected to have higher DUI arrest totals, which we did,” Ramirez said. “We were having more people on the roadway, I thought, this year … the one downfall, of course, we had that one fatality on (Jan.) 2, which was DUI related.”

Hollister resident Adam Baxter, 20, a star wrestler and football player who graduated from San Benito High School in 2002, was killed after his friend, suspected of driving drunk, crashed his car on Union Road near Hollister in the early morning hours Sunday. Baxter was riding unrestrained in the passenger seat and was thrown from San Juan Bautista resident Matthew Engwall’s 1997 Ford Thunderbird when the car drifted into a ditch about 3am and overturned, according to the CHP.

Engwall, 21, of San Juan Bautista, was booked into San Benito County jail on two felony DUI charges for driving with a blood alcohol level above .08 causing death, and felony gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, according to a CHP-released statement.

Engwall’s exact blood alcohol level won’t be released until the district attorney’s office receives the accident report with the full investigation, Ramirez said.

Staff writer Erin Musgrave contributed to this report.

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