The August headlines in The Bee have hit the Valley like a punch to the gut.
"Man pleads guilty to killing 3 sisters."
"Woman gets prison for death: Hit-run crash killed Clovis man in 2011."
"Meth linked to fatal crash in Fresno: Woman is accused of DUI in stolen SUV."
All these tragedies had one thing in common: innocent people died because someone was driving — or was suspected of driving — while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
As we party and travel on this Labor Day weekend, a three-day holiday noted for a spike in DUI arrests, law enforcement agencies Valleywide are warning that they are on a maximum-enforcement period ending Monday at midnight. Expect frequent checkpoints and DUI saturation patrols. The California Highway Patrol is deploying all available officers onto freeways and county roads. If you think they are out to get you, you would be right. They're out to prevent heartbreaking events like those we saw this month.
In two of the cases, the drivers were convicted of murder, among other crimes. Tranquilino Figueroa's blood-alcohol level was .21 — twice the legal limit — when his van collided head-on into a car, killing three sisters and injuring a fourth. They were northbound on McCall Avenue near Sanger. At age 56, he will be sentenced Sept. 13.
Perla Ibeth Vazquez, 27, was drunk when she caused a crash on Highway 168 that killed Frank Winslow, 54. "This was a murder," said Judge Hilary Chittick. Vazquez was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
Roberta Lynn Soto, 45, is pleading not guilty to causing a fatal collision in northeast Fresno that killed 26-year-old Matthew Harkenrider. She is accused of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving while under the influence of drugs, possession of methamphetamine, auto theft and driving without a license.
The best solution is prevention.
If you plan to drink or serve alcohol to guests, arrange designated drivers, taxis, Uber or Lyft drivers or a free service like AAA Tipsy Tow service. AAA offers drivers a ride and up to five miles of free towing to their home with a tow truck driver. The hours are 6 p.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. Monday and AAA membership is not required. Call (800) 222-4357.
If you have to pay for a ride, the money is worth it. Costs for drunken-driving citations can reach upward of $10,000 or more with impound fees, increased insurance fees, driving classes and other penalties. Even if you are not driving, there can be legal consequences for serving drunken drivers.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving offers hosts lists of tips on its website, madd.org.
Never serve alcohol to someone under the legal drinking age or let kids serve.
Do not push drinks.
Close the bar 90 minutes before the party ends and serve dessert and coffee.
Valley police, sheriff's departments and the CHP encourage all motorists to report suspected drunken drivers by calling 911.