Kelowna cops struggle to get the upper hand on seasonal drinking and driving

Drinking and driving during the holidays is causing havoc on Okanagan roads again this year.

Over the weekend, cops seized vehicles, smashed a woman's window in to arrest her after she fled a roadside check-stop, and helped extract a 20-year-old Peachland man from his vehicle after he was hit by a driver suspected of being drunk.

The Jeep Cherokee that hit the young man's Pontiac G6 was reportedly being driven erratically, heading southbound on Highway 97 in the northbound lanes near Gorman's Mill, without its lights on; and the resulting accident was serious enough to keep the Pontiac driver in hospital with serious injuries.

"The driver of the Jeep, an 18 year old man from Osoyoos, was detained for the purposes of an impaired investigation. After being cleared by the medical staff at the Kelowna General Hospital, he was taken to the Kelowna RCMP Detachment where he provided breath samples in excess of the legal limit," said Cnst. Kris Clark in a statement issued Monday morning.

The evening before the crash, on Sexsmith Road near Valley Road, police engaged in a Counter Attack operation found themselves chasing down a 32-year-old woman from West Kelowna who ran from police when she encountered the check-stop.

"A woman stopped in the road check, refused to provide officers with her driver's licence and sped away," Clark said.

A dramatic chase ensued with police following her in her Mazda through two different stops, a ditch on Sexsmith Road and over the median on Sexsmith Road at Highway 97, as she turned left onto the highway. It took a spike belt on the highway at Beaver Lake Road to stop her, and she is now heading to court Dec. 13 to face possible charges of Flight from Police and Obstruction.

She was issued a ticket for driving without her licence, though Clark said it is suspected she too would have failed the breathalizer at the Counter Attack operation.

A member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and an officer from the RCMP's task force to deal with the issue were on hand during Monday morning's regular police press briefing to speak to the prevalence of drunk driving during the holidays.

"Historically, we've found more (infractions) at this time of year," said Cpl. Jayson Lacash, who is part of what's called Alexa's Team, so named for four year old Alexa Middelaer, killed by a drunk driver while walking with her aunt in Delta.

Lacash said there are plenty of people still drinking too much and deciding to drive home from downtown establishments on any given weekend, but even with increased Counter Attack enforcement boosting statistical evidence, it seems people still do drink and drive more in December.

But he also thinks the situation is improving.

"I'm not seeing quite as many repeat offenders and the readings are not as high as they used to be in my experience," said Lacash.

He believes the graduated licensing system and its a zero tolerance policy for new drivers, banning them from having anything to drink before getting behind the wheel, is changing the culture among drivers just entering adulthood.

Unfortunately, there is also a group for whom drinking and driving is a norm that just isn't going to change, he said.

Twenty driving prohibitions were issued in Counter Attack actions Friday, including seven 90-day Immediate Roadside Driving Prohibitions (IRP), ten three-day IRP's, two 24-hour prohibitions for drugs and alcohol, and a 12-hour driving prohibition.

Saturday evening police added another six people to the offender list after an operation on the William R. Bennett Bridge.




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