In the Rio Grande Valley, drunk driving deaths have increased and police are ramping up efforts to stop the killings.
Hidalgo County is ranked #7 out of 254 counties in Texas for the highest amount of drunk drivers. Last year, there were 953 DWI related crashes in Hidalgo County alone.
“We see a large amount of alcohol-related DWI’s, but there is also a large amount with the prevalence of Xanax, we see a lot of them here in the Valley with prescribed drugs,” said Officer Robert Reyes with the Edinburg Police Department.
CBS 4 rode along with different Hidalgo County agencies to see the issue first-hand and within an hour, officers were responding to an alcohol-related crash in Edinburg.
“They saw them strike a pole, they saw the suspect leave the scene,” said Officer Zachary Saenz with the Edinburg Police Department.
Statewide, 522 people lost their lives on Texas roads because of drunk driving.
“Most of them already have a record for prior DWI arrests,” said Sgt. Ruben Lozano with the Alton Police Department. “I’m not going to catch everybody, but at least I know that person I took off the street that day, that night, is not going to hurt other people, kill himself or others.”
Not even a few hours into his shift, Lozano caught a repeat offender swerving on the roads of Alton. There were over three beers inside his car as well as a half-empty bottle of Malibu liquor.
“He advised me that he had been arrested before, he did 10 years for intoxicated manslaughter in 2002,” said Lozano who was was awarded by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, for the most DWI arrests in his city last year, “Based on the field sobriety test I knew he had more than four beers, so I asked him how many he really had and he said five or six.”
Just like that, he was in handcuffs and headed to the police department to be booked, again.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, drunk driving is the number one cause of death on Texas roads and in the Valley, officers are seeing more of it.
“We finished the year in 2018 with around 80 DWI arrests and this past year in 2019, we had 155,” said Lozano. “So in the past two years, we’ve seen a jump in DWI’s within our city.”
22 people were killed from drinking and driving in Hidalgo County alone last year and dozens more seriously hurt.
“If you go into our courts, you would see the huge numbers of DWI cases, I mean we have huge numbers in this county,” said Ana Verly who works with MADD. “Not everyone who is involved in a crash dies. I’ve worked with victims who have lost limbs, I have a victim who is a double amputee who was pronounced dead and came back somehow after being airlifted.”
Regardless of the agency, the mission for law enforcement and prevention agencies across the Rio Grande Valley stays the same.
“We try to fight this epidemic, it’s an epidemic,” said Lozano. “Within the last year or two, we lost an EMS because of a drunk driver, we lost a dispatcher because of a drunk driver. Those hit home because we’re all first responders and see each other as brothers and sisters and if you’re breaking these laws, like driving when intoxicated, at the end of the day we need to do our jobs.”
More than 10,000 people were killed in the United States by a drunk driver in 2018.
The most recent drunk driving crash in the Valley claimed the life of an 8-year-old girl in Rio Grande City.
Her mother is facing DWI charges.