Data recently compiled by the University of New Mexico provides the strongest evidence yet the DWIs in San Miguel County are going down. A lot of people should be credited with effectively combating this hazard of the roadways.
According to the statistics, there has been a drop of nearly 30 percent in DWI arrests in the county over a five-year period — from 459 arrests in 2004 to 323 arrests in 2008 — and an even more dramatic decrease in alcohol-related crashes, from 74 to 28 during the same five-year period, a nearly 60 person drop. Such improvements are the result of a number of factors, not all of which have been strictly local.
It started at the top in state government. During his two terms as governor, Bill Richardson has made it a priority to get drunken drivers off the roadways with public awareness campaigns and much stiffer penalties for DWIs. To his credit, his efforts have made potential offenders think twice about getting behind the wheel.
But there has also been a notable local effort. San Miguel County has taken a more practical approach with its Safe Ride Home program. According to Coordinator Wendy Armijo, it has served nearly 1,000 people in a year’s time. That’s a lot of drinkers off our streets.
Of course, this issue hits close to home for Las Vegans who have lost loved ones to drunken drivers, including a incredible tragedy that hit in late 2006. A Las Vegas family was returning from a soccer match in Bernalillo when a wrong-way driver, with enough alcohol in his system to be four times the legal limit, took their lives in a head-on vehicle collision. Gone in a tragic instant were Paul Gonzales, 36; Renee Collins-Gonzales, 39; Jacqueline Gonzales, 11; Selena Gonzales, 11; and Alisha Garcia, 17. Only 15-year-old Arissa Garcia survived the wreck.
Las Vegas now has a monument in their honor, standing at the intersection of Mills Avenue and Second Street in Las Vegas. But a better monument would be to eliminate drunken driving from our city streets, rural roadways and interstate highways. And through a combination of efforts, we’re moving in the right direction.