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Across Maryland, police boost patrols to halt holiday imbibers

Officer Jonathan Bennett of the Gaithersburg Police Department said he rarely goes a shift without arresting someone for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Officer Jonathan Bennett of the Gaithersburg Police Department said he rarely goes a shift without arresting someone for driving under the influence of alcohol. "I do like the notion that I'm out aggressively looking for drivers under the influence," he said. (Chris Rossi/the Gazette)
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By Patricia M. Murret and Sebastian Montes
The Gazette
Thursday, December 10, 2009

On the Friday night before Thanksgiving, Officer Jonathan Bennett cruised through Gaithersburg in his Dodge Charger on high alert.

"I don't know if I like the word 'hunt,' " said Bennett, of the Gaithersburg Police Department. "But I do like the notion that I'm out aggressively looking for drivers under the influence and going to take some off the road."

Bennett, 27, is part of a multijurisdictional alcohol task force working to stop people from driving under the influence and to prevent drunken-driving accidents during the holiday season.

The coalition is focusing additional officers in areas known for a high number of alcohol-related incidents. It is also using underage volunteers and plainclothes surveillance to do compliance checks at businesses that sell alcohol; conducting sobriety checkpoints; and dispersing underage drinking parties.

It includes officers from the Montgomery County Police, Maryland-National Capital Park Police, Maryland State Police and Gaithersburg Police departments and the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office.

Bennett was one of three officers in the state to arrest more than 100 drunk drivers in 2007 and 2008. His arrests of 192 people for driving under the influence or driving while impaired in 2007 were the most in Maryland, said Liza Aguilar-Lemaster, impaired-driving prevention coordinator for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Bennett made 145 DUI or DWI arrests last year, just behind Montgomery police Officer John Romack, Maryland's leader for the year with 147. Romack also serves on the task force.

Each arrest was "entirely, absolutely avoidable," said Romack, 46, an officer at the 1st District station in Rockville.

"All we want people to do is make a better decision," he said. "Call a friend, get a hotel room, but don't get behind the wheel of a car."

Nearly 600 people died in traffic accidents in Maryland last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Nearly one-third of the crashes were alcohol-related, and more than a quarter involved a driver with a blood-alcohol content above Maryland's .08 limit.

In Romack's 25 years on patrol, he has arrested 2,000 to 3,000 drunken drivers. They include the driver who blacked out behind the wheel last week, so disoriented he thought he was in Frederick County. And the woman who was so disfigured from an accident she had to be "put back together like Humpty Dumpty," with "27 pieces of metal in her body." And the 80-year-old woman who mixed her second drink of the morning after she had left her grandchildren at day care.

Romack caught one drunk driver five times. A different driver he arrested had at least 15 prior convictions.


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