Police step up checkpoints for Fourth

Area law enforcement will employ checkpoints and step-up patrols this weekend in preparation for the July 4 holiday Monday.

Local police chiefs said Friday that their departments will collaborate with others to help enforce Booze it & Lose it: Operation Firecracker, a campaign initiated by state officials to remove impaired drivers from the roads.

N.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Gene Conti announced earlier this week that local law enforcement officers from across the state will help with the campaign.

“Driving while impaired puts everyone on the roads at risk,” Conti said. “If you have anything to drink, please find a safe ride home."

In Catawba County, the story is no different, as numerous departments around the area will assist in the increased efforts.

Conover Police Chief Steve Brewer said his department will assist with checkpoints across the county.

“Traditionally, a lot people are off for the Fourth,” Brewer said.

“There are a lot of parties going on and a lot of drinking and driving.”

In 2010, there were 205 alcohol-related crashes during the Independence holiday week statewide, resulting in six fatalities. Alcohol-related crashes also accounted for 105 injuries in the state during the same week last year, according to state records.

Officers charged more than 1,200 North Carolina motorists with driving while impaired during the 2010 Booze It & Lose It: Operation Firecracker campaign. More than 4,600 police officers stepped-up patrols and checkpoints were conducted.

Hickory Police Department will increase its manpower during the Independence holiday weekend, as its entire traffic safety and street crime units will be on the schedule, said Hickory Police Capt. Gary Lee.

Lee said the department is not targeting specific areas, but rather increasing manpower with the flexibility to move it where it is needed.

“Part of Operation Firecracker is when you have the largest number of serious traffic accidents,” Lee said. “That’s what we are trying to reduce. Alcohol consumption is also always a concern.”

Newton Police Chief Don Brown said his department will also assist the cause by working with other agencies around the county. Despite the increased effort to get drunk drivers off the roads, Brown said the Independence holiday weekend is usually slow because citizens are out of town.

Brewer agreed, saying he’s already seen an increased amount of traffic on local roads, an indication that many people may be heading out of town for the weekend.

“A lot of people are leaving town, and I’m surprised at the traffic I’ve seen,” Brewer said. “It seems like we are going to have a lot of people out of town.”

Brewer said the increase in traffic does not usually result in more accidents in Conover, but he suspected that the N.C. Highway Patrol does see more traffic issues.

Highway patrol officials said there will be an increased presence of troopers on the interstates and major four-lane highways. Troopers will be cracking down on speeders during the holiday and will be using LIDAR and other speed-timing devices to assist them in enforcing laws, officials said.

Last year, the highway patrol said 18 people died on the state roadways from crashes unrelated to drinking and driving during the holiday weekend, while 471 people were injured.

“I have instructed our troopers to crackdown on traffic violators on our highways and to apply strict enforcement to those motorists who are traveling at dangerous speeds or in a careless manner,” said Col.
Michael Gilchrist, the N.C. Highway Patrol commander. “Speed is the No. 1 factor in fatal collisions, and our troopers will be looking for aggressive drivers, drunk drivers and other violators while patrolling throughout the state during the holiday week.”