Law enforcement agencies across the state are gearing up for a DWI crackdown over the Mardi Gras season.
Louisiana Highway Safety Commission Executive Director John LeBlanc says Mardi Gras is one of the deadliest seasons in Louisiana.
LeBlanc tells The Advocate LHSC has provided grants to about 45 police departments and sheriff’s offices for enhanced DWI enforcement from Feb. 5 through Mardi Gras day on Feb. 21.
The money is to be used for overtime to allow local agencies to increase the number of patrol officers looking for drunken drivers and to conduct more DWI checkpoints, he said.
For 2010, the last year for which complete crash figures are available, the Mardi Gras holiday from Friday evening through midnight on Tuesday saw 509 crashes that resulted in deaths or injuries, more than any other major holiday that year, according to crash data compiled by the LHSC.
There were 11 traffic deaths during the 2010 Mardi Gras holiday, six of which involved alcohol, the highest number of alcohol-related deaths for any other holiday that year except Christmas, which also had six, according to the LHSC figures.
In Lafayette, the police department is preparing for a holiday that can attract as many as 300,000 revelers to the area’s parades and other festivities, said Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft.
Police officers will be on the streets with the help of a new $350,000 RV that has been equipped to do DWI breath tests in the field, allowing officers to quickly process drunken driving suspects rather than returning to the office for each test, Craft said.
The RV, purchased with a grant from the LHSC, was first deployed in August as part of the Lafayette Police Department’s Alcohol Traffic Action Campaign and is already credited with helping boost the department’s DWI arrests.
LHSC made the announcement of beefed up enforcement at a Tuesday news conference attended by Craft and representatives from State Police, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Police Department.
“When you make a poor decision, not only does it affect you, but it has catastrophic consequences for others,” said ULL Police Chief Joey Sturm.
That reality was emphasized by an emotional statement read by Tammy Dugas, whose daughter, Brittney, was killed by a drunk driver in Lafayette during the Mardi Gras holiday in 2007.
“I’ve cried for the last 5 years,” Dugas said. “… Since the day that Brittney died, my life has never been the same.”
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