May 24, 2017
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Darlene Peshlakai Descanso
Police say every descanso is one too many
Matt Grubs

Starting Over

After a string of DWI wrecks, Santa Fe looks to redouble its efforts to stop drunken drivers

April 21, 2017, 5:30 pm

“No one is above having their keys taken,” Ralph Gonzales says into a microphone, his voice quickly vanishing into the spring wind. He’s speaking to a crowd of city, county and state officials and advocates who wholeheartedly agree.

Gonzales knows about starting over. On Nov. 11, 2006, he lost five members of his family when drunken driver Dana Papst drove his truck the wrong way down I-25 into a minivan carrying his son, Paul, and his son’s wife, Renee, and their four children. Only one child survived.

“They were taken in one minute,” he says. “And you spend the rest of your life dealing with that one day at time.”

“DWI is everywhere,” says Darlene Peshlakai a moment later. She’s standing next to the descanso at Cerrillos and Cristo’s roads for her two daughters, Del Lynn and Deshauna, who were killed when drunken driver James Ruiz rammed his truck at full speed into the back of the family car on March 5, 2010.

The Peshlakai and Gonzales families have been as visible as they can force themselves to be when it comes to speaking out about drunken driving.

But the problem isn’t going away. In fact, in Santa Fe, it’s getting worse.

Darlene Peshlakai
Matt Grubs

Luke Griffin, a Santa Fe teenager, has been charged with aggravated DWI and homicide by vehicle in connection with a February crash on I-25 in Sandoval County that killed a Colorado woman and injured passengers in her vehicle.

Last week, police charged Dominic Friedlein with killing a passenger in his SUV when he crashed into another car. Officers believe the 24-year-old had been drinking before the crash.City police are making fewer arrests and DWI-related crashes are up. Within the past month, a handful of high-profile crashes have thrust the issue into the public consciousness once again.

Santa Fe police plan more saturation patrols and more DWI checkpoints, joining a stepped-up effort already underway by the county and state police.

Police say it’s difficult to pin the rise in crashes on any one thing, though SFPD Deputy Chief Mario Salbidrez says a roughly 20 percent vacancy rate at the department has made enforcement difficult.

The city hopes to capitalize on the recent publicity to start a community conversation.

“This is a community problem,” Salbidrez says, urging bartenders, servers and clerks to not sell booze to people who are already drunk. “If they don’t have it, they can’t be on the streets impaired.”

“Talk to your friends, your neighbors, your family,” says Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales.

In coming weeks, local advocates plan new training for servers to assert themselves more effectively when it comes to cutting off customers. Despite steep cuts to funding and the recent closure of Capital Cab, which participated in a subsidized ride program for people who’d been drinking, anti-DWI groups say they’ll focus on trying to get the community to talk about it; to make it okay to tell someone they shouldn’t drive.

 

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