DWI Enforcement to Ramp Up at Holidays
Dallas, Tarrant officials to use no-refusal policies for taking blood samples
By TRISTAN HALLMAN
Staff Writer [email protected]
GRAND PRAIRIE — John Patton said he had only a five-minute drive home after a night of drinking at an Austin College fraternity party.
But in those five minutes one night in March 2002, his life changed forever. He didn’t completely stop at a flashing red light at a Sherman intersection, causing a wreck that killed 25-yearold Chad Morris.
“Never in a million years did I think I would be the type of person that would kill someone drinking and driving,” said Patton, 34. “Never in a million years did I think I’d be the type of person that would go to prison.”
Patton, who now lives in Dallas, was among advocates and officials from both Dallas and Tarrant counties to speak out against drunken driving during a news conference here Wednesday. They all had the same message as the holiday season approaches: Drink if you want to, but don’t drive afterward.
“The law enforcement will be there,” Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia said. “They will be out. They will be watching. And the message is simple: If you drink and drive, you go to jail.”
Statistics don’t show a significant spike in DWI traffic fatalities during the winter holiday season, except for New Year’s Eve and day, according to state records. Still, officials said they are pushing DWI awareness around the holidays because people are more likely to celebrate and drink this time of year.
“We want to see families rejoicing, not regretting,” said Tarrant County Commissioner Andy Nguyen. “Have fun, but be responsible.”
Many North Texas law enforcement agencies will have no-refusal policies in place around the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays. The no-refusal enforcements allow police to take blood samples from suspected drunken drivers without their consent.
Some agencies — including the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office — have policies to get warrants to draw blood samples on every DWI investigation throughout the year.
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said he would devote extra prosecutors to DWI cases over the holidays. He said blood samples make prosecution much easier than previously when inexperienced prosecutors would have to go up against specialized defense attorneys with little hard evidence.
“For the longest time, it was like taking candy from a baby,” Watkins said of DWI defense attorneys. “Now we’re in a position to actually compete with these high-paid defense lawyers on DWIs.”
Patton was ultimately convicted of intoxication manslaughter in 2007. He was paroled two years later. He now works as a counselor and owns Patton Sober Living, a rehab house in Far Northeast Dallas. He said he talks to family members of the man he killed.
He also speaks regularly about his drunken-driving accident to deter others.
“I hope someone out there will look at me and realize it’s not the severe alcoholic drinking a fifth of whiskey every day that kills people drinking and driving,” Patton said. “It’s actually everyday, normal people who think they are doing nothing wrong because everybody is doing it.”
But for all the help Patton offers others, he said he still has to live with his mistake.
“It’s a very kind of overwhelming feeling to know you’ve done something that you can’t change,” he said, “and you can’t do anything to make it better.”
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