Summer DUI checkpoint campaign kicks off

DOVER — It was sweltering hot outside, 90-something degrees, but for a few minutes on Thursday afternoon nobody cared.

A mother’s compelling and tragic tale of her son killed in a drunk driving accident gained the full attention of nearly 100 officers now sworn to detour the next mishap before it happens.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving National President Colleen Sheehey-Church collects herself after recounting the loss of her 18-year-old son in a drunken driving crash in 2004. On Thursday, the Delaware Office of Highway Safety launched its 15th annual Checkpoint Strikeforce campaign designed to increase vigilance on enforcing drunk and drugged driving laws. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Mothers Against Drunk Driving National President Colleen Sheehey-Church collects herself after recounting the loss of her 18-year-old son in a drunken driving crash in 2004. On Thursday, the Delaware Office of Highway Safety launched its 15th annual Checkpoint Strikeforce campaign designed to increase vigilance on enforcing drunk and drugged driving laws. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The Delaware Office of Highway Safety launched its 15th annual Checkpoint Strikeforce campaign designed to increase vigilance on enforcing drunk and drugged driving laws, and police officers throughout the state joined the effort at a swearing in ceremony under a tent on Legislative Mall.

Colleen Sheehey-Church, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, personalized the affects of impaired driving, telling the story of her 18-year-old Dustin, who died just after midnight on July 10, 2004 when the vehicle he was riding in plunged off a cliff and into a Connecticut river after “pinballing” out of control.

Investigation determined that the vehicle was traveling 75 mph in a 35 mph zone and hit trees and signs before going airborne 35 feet and crashing into a river upside down.

While two other occupants in the front seat escaped from the vehicle, Ms. Sheehey-Church’s son, seat belted and sober she said, tried futilely for 10 minutes to exit from the back seat before drowning.

“He struggled to do anything he could to stay alive,” said Ms. Sheehey’s-Church, acknowledging her son’s will to survive before succumbing to the water.

“ … Dustin likely knew he was about to die yet he tried so hard to get out.”

Afterward, the driver, considered a friend of the victim, was found to have alcohol, marijuana and PCP in her system at the time of the crash just after midnight on a dark roadway.

Office of Highway Safety Director Jana Simpler hugs Mothers Against Drunk Driving National President Colleen Sheehey-Church. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Office of Highway Safety Director Jana Simpler hugs Mothers Against Drunk Driving National President Colleen Sheehey-Church. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

If the vehicle would have first gone though a sobriety checkpoint, Ms. Sheehey-Church believes her son might be alive today. She lamented the opportunity to give her son a kiss in his final moments, stroke his cheek or say it’s OK to go.

“I was robbed of all that,” she said.

A top priority

Ms. Sheehey-Church thanked Delaware law enforcement and officials for making her cause to stop impaired driving as a top priority.

“I truly believe that we, by working together, will create a nation of no more victims,” she concluded.

Taking a multi-jurisdictional approach, the Office of Highway Safety and its law enforcement partners will conduct four nights of checkpoints from July 15 to Dec. 31 at multiple spots within the state. The plan calls for two stops each in New Castle and Sussex counties, and another in Kent County.

According to the OHS, there have been more than a dozen deaths in Delaware linked to impaired driving so far this year, and more than 1,800 DUI arrests have been made. Just over half of all the state’s fatal crashes in 2015 were connected to impaired driving.

OHS, noting the support of DelDOT as well in lighting checkpoints, billed its campaign as “Your Night Redefined. Don’t Let a DUI Redefine you.”

Proactive enforcement is a must, officials agreed, and Department of Safety and Homeland Security Secretary James Mosley described drunk and drugged driving as occurring in “epidemic proportions” nationwide.

“With all of today’s alternatives for getting home safely, there’s no excuse for getting behind the wheel when impaired,” OHS Director Jana Simpler said in a news release.

“Driving impaired is never worth the risk, not for yourself or anyone else. If law enforcement pulls you over for impaired driving, you can count on being arrested.”

Ellendale police officer Bruce VonGoerres, left, meets with Attorney General Matt Denn after the swearing in 100 law enforcement officers during the Checkpoint Strike Force event at Legislative Mall in Dover on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Ellendale police officer Bruce VonGoerres, left, meets with Attorney General Matt Denn after the swearing in 100 law enforcement officers during the Checkpoint Strike Force event at Legislative Mall in Dover on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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