Council honors DUI enforcers in Lycoming County

Two area police departments accepted awards Tuesday that recognize stellar work in making drunken driving arrests in 2013.

At a ceremony held at the James Restaurant in the Holiday Inn, county DUI Advisory Council Chairwoman Carol Sides presented plaques to members of the state police and Old Lycoming Township police department.

State police out of the Montoursville barracks took first place for the 350 DUI arrests their department made last year with Old Lycoming Township police in second place for 78 arrests.

Accepting on behalf of the state police were Lt. Todd Weltmer and Trooper Adam Kirk, whose 52 arrests were the result of vigilant patrolling, and a program that gives police officers two additional field sobriety tests.

“Adam is always looking, even in the daylight,” Weltmer said.

The program, ARIDE, or Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement, makes it easier for officers to test for the presence of drugs, such as marijuana and prescription pills.

“Of the 52 DUI arrests I made, eight to 10 of them were drug-related,” Kirk said.

Kirk’s special training allows him always to be on the lookout for key indicators that suggest a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

“If there is a crash, I assume it’s a DUI until I can prove otherwise,” Kirk said.

Kirk’s skill-set is crucial to assessing accidents that occur in daylight, when he sees more incidents involving drugs, such as heroin or prescription pills, than alcohol.

“When someone is drug impaired, that’s harder to detect than when someone has been drinking,” Kirk said, adding that prescription drugs like Oxycontin or Oxycodone are popular right now. Through interviewing suspects, he can tell whether drugs or alcohol contributed to an incident, such as a vehicle crash.

Weltmer attributed much of his department’s success to many of the younger troopers, who have gone through training that wasn’t available when he joined the force. Weltmer praised also Old Lycoming Township Police Chief William Solomon, who accepted the second-place award with Officer Robert Cochran.

Cochran made ten to 15 DUI arrests last year while Solomon made 23.

Solomon said his department has been busy this year already, citing a number of arrests made over Mardi Gras weekend.

State police were similarly tasked: one car made six DUI arrests during Mardi Gras, according to Kirk.

Though Tuesday’s event honored the work of police efforts, there also was an emphasis on drug and alcohol abuse as a whole across the county, and how its consequences can be prevented and reduced.

Chris Smith, of the Community Traffic Safety Project, mentioned her organization’s efforts to promote responsible drinking, such as partnering with area beer distributors and restaurants and bars to raise awareness about the dangers of driving under the influence. She said the most effective method simply is through posters in the bathrooms of bars that remind people it’s safer to secure a ride at the end of a night of drinking than risk causing a fatal accident.

There also was talk of the bus provided by the Cell Block that takes students who have been drinking back and forth from the bar to the school.

Sides questioned whether the bus enables students to abuse alcohol.

Donn Troutman, director of Safety and Security at Lycoming College, said the Cell Block provides a valuable service.

“The bus keeps students off the streets and sidewalks, where they could be victims of a crime,” he said.

County Coroner Charles E. Kiessling Jr. said there were seven fatal crashes last year, four of which involved drunken driving.

Members of the council emphasized the importance of DUI Victim Impact Panels, where victims of crashes involving drunken driving can speak about the impact it has had on their lives. The panels can raise awareness for the public and for police officers.

“More often than not, we deal with the drunk driver and not the victims,” Cochran said.

“If officers would attend the panels and see what victims have to go through, it would motivate them,” to be more proactive in DUI enforcement, Kirk said.