Bay Area law enforcement out in droves ahead of the countdown

The first day of the year is also the deadliest day on the road. Statistics show once New Year's eve revelers head home after midnight, those immediate hours are treacherous. 

It's why law enforcement is out in droves, with saturation patrols and sobriety checkpoints, well in advance of the countdown.  

"In an ideal world we wouldn't arrest anybody at a checkpoint, everybody would go through and everybody would be following the law," said Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Chad Heiser, as he supervised a Friday evening checkpoint on College Avenue near downtown. 

In the first four hours of the checkpoint, close to 1,000 drivers were quizzed. About 40 were directed to pull aside for closer inspection. Fourteen were given field sobriety tests and two women were arrested for DUI. More than a dozen other people were cited for driving on a suspended license or no license at all.  

"Officers are trained in recognition for driving under the influence and we ask specific questions if we notice any of the signs," said Heiser. “But it's also a simple yes or no question, ‘have you been drinking tonight?’"    

In the first half-hour of the checkpoint, a young woman admitted to having a drink before leaving her job at a downtown bar to drive home. 

She was put through the paces of a field sobriety test, then a breathlyzer test, which registered a .11, slightly above the legal .08 limit. 

She was arrested for DUI, but was allowed to go home with a relative, cited instead of going straight to jail. 

She seemed unhappy with the outcome, but Heiser notes, driving while impaired can end in far worse ways. 

"I've got five motorcycle officers going to a funeral tomorrow for a CHP Officer who was killed by a suspected drunk driver last week, so it affects not only citizens, but law enforcement as well," said Heiser. 

He was referring to beloved Hayward CHP Officer Andrew Camilleri, who was killed on Christmas Eve, while on patrol with a partner on I-880.

Their cruiser was struck by a suspected DUI driver, even as they were keeping a lookout for dangerous drivers. 

Camilleri was married, with three children. 

His public memorial service was held Saturday at 8:30 am in Stockton.

During the Christmas enforcement period, CHP arrested more than 900 people across California for DUI.
New Year's weekend will most likely rival, or exceed that. 

"Everybody knows you shouldn't drink and drive but not everybody knows how alcohol affects them," said Heiser. “Once you've had a couple of drinks your reasoning isn't good and you make the wrong decision."

Behind the statistics, the human toll is immeasurable. 

On Highway 12 in Sonoma County, earlier this month, a head-on crash killed a mother and 7-year-old daughter, as they were driving to school in the morning. 

The man whose pick-up truck crossed over and hit them is a repeat DUI offender, now charged with two counts of murder.   

"I've seen some people who couldn't stand up when they got out of the car," said Heiser, recalling inebriated drivers he has encountered.