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DUI arrests way up

32 nabbed this holiday weekend compared to six last year

Posted: July 8, 2008 1:29 a.m.
Updated: September 8, 2008 5:02 a.m.
As July 4 fireworks entertained tens of thousands of people throughout the Santa Clarita Valley, local law enforcement was trying to ensure that the local entertainment was safe.

The holiday weekend wrapped up with one person dead and 32 people arrested for allegedly driving under the influence — a leap from six DUI arrests during the 2007 holiday weekend, according to a California Highway Patrol report.

“They are definitely up,” Officer John Lutz said of DUI arrests. “We didn’t notice any other trends, though.”
Lutz added the increase in arrests this year may be attributed to the longer enforcement period. In 2007, the enforcement period was in effect the weekend after July 4, which fell on a Wednesday.

However, this year, the enforcement period was twice as long, starting at 6 p.m. Thursday and ending on Sunday night.

The sole fatality, which occurred Sunday morning on Interstate 5 near Smokey Bear Road, increased the number of vehicle-related deaths throughout the Santa Clarita Valley this year to 16. That total is ahead of last year’s pace; in 2007, there were 22 vehicle-related deaths, Lutz said.

It wasn’t just DUI stops keeping local peace officers busy.

Deputies from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station responded to 258 reports of illegal fireworks use between Thursday and Sunday, issued eight fireworks-related citations, confiscated fireworks from 11 locations and arrested a Val Verde man on a felony charge of possession of illegal fireworks.

“These enforcement and safety operations, and the hard work of all the staff at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station resulted in another safe and fun-filled 4th of July holiday,” sheriff’s Capt. Anthony La Berge said in a statement. “Thanks to these efforts and our diligent proactive residents, no one was seriously injured or killed this holiday weekend in the Santa Clarita Valley and no fires attributed to fireworks were reported.”

According to the sheriff’s station’s report, deputies responded to 170 fireworks-related calls and 23 loud music or party calls between 2 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Saturday.

The station’s enforcement period began at 2 p.m. Thursday and continued through 10 p.m. Sunday.

Despite the arrests, a few local residents were disgruntled about fireworks enforcement during the holiday weekend.

Brad Belnap of Castaic speculated deputies could have made an additional 20 arrests had they responded to his call of illegal firework use in the Live Oak community he lives in.

“These were professional fireworks,” he said. “It was definitely not ‘safe and sane’ fireworks.”

Belnap said he tried calling deputies shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday when he saw a few local residents shooting fireworks several hundred feet into the air. Most of those fireworks exploded in the air, causing debris to spread throughout the neighborhood, he said.

As he tried contacting sheriff’s deputies, Belnap said he was on hold for more than 20 minutes before he hung up. Moments later, when he saw someone shooting some fireworks into a tree near his home, he said he tried to call 911 to tell them the tree was in danger of going up in flames.

However, he said the emergency operator asked him to call back if the fire spread. While the flames managed to fizzle by the time Belnap’s emergency call was complete, he was resigned to the fact that no one was going to immediately respond.

“They made it sound like this is going on everywhere,” Belnap said of the emergency operator’s response.

Others in the neighborhood agreed. A few families that lived down the street said they continued to hear fireworks explode as late as Sunday evening.

“These fireworks were shot 100 to 200 feet in the air, exploding and showering onto the trees,” Belnap said.

However, Belnap said he understands that law enforcement may have been strapped this year, due to wildfires in Santa Barbara and portions of Northern California.

“I think the sheriff’s and fire departments are doing a good job,” he said. “Maybe they are strapped due to the fires. But this is not the first year they refused to come out.”


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