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Police departments, fire officials prepare for July 4 celebrations

Avoid the 7 taskforce to crack down on DUIs
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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Law enforcement officials are ready to work together by offering tips for safe July 4 celebrations and beefing up efforts to keep drunk drivers off the road.

Last year, the Newcastle office of the California Highway Patrol arrested 60 people over the July 4 weekend, according to Auburn area California Highway Patrol Spokesman Officer David Martinez. Highway patrols throughout the state made 1,562 DUI arrests during the July 4 weekend.

Over the July 4 weekend last year, the Auburn Police Department only arrested one person for DUI, according to Sarah Lacko, custodian of records with the Auburn Police Department.

The Avoid the 7 DUI Taskforce will again be on the roads to prevent these statistics from swelling. The taskforce is a way for all of the law enforcement agencies in Placer County to band together when there is a greater need for enhanced road surveillance.

"The smaller agencies are usually not able on their own to get enough bodies out there to do things like DUI check points, so by being a part of the Avoid program they are able to work with other law enforcement agencies collectively," said Chris Cochran, spokesman for the California Office of Traffic Safety.

This year, the Avoid the 7 DUI Taskforce was out on Sunday and will be out again today and Wednesday. The officers on duty operate special DUI checkpoints throughout the county where a driver's sobriety and driver's license can be inspected.

"It helps spread the enforcement around the areas where it's needed, but there might not be the manpower or budget to provide it," Cochran said.

The California Highway Patrol will also start its maximum enforcement period today at 6 p.m. and will last until midnight on Wednesday.

While the maximum enforcement period resulted in those 60 DUI arrests in Placer County last year, 34 people were killed in accidents throughout California, up from 23 in 2010.

"It is alarming to know that more than 80 percent of the people who were killed in vehicle collisions over the Independence Day holiday last year may have survived had they taken the time to buckle up," said California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow in a press release.

According to Cochran, when Auburn is stacked up against the 108 other cities in California that have populations of 10,000 to 25,000, Auburn is ranked 37th in terms of instances of crashes where alcohol was involved.

He added that in 2010, Auburn saw 97 DUI arrests with an arrest rate of 1.21 percent. That's above the state average of .9 percent.

"Auburn is arresting more people for DUI than the state average and that could be because the police are more aggressively looking for impaired drivers there," Cochran said.

The Avoid the 7 Taskforce offers tips like planning a safe way home before celebrations begin or designating a sober driver. Calling a taxi or using public transportation is also obviously preferred to getting behind the wheel after alcohol consumption.

Fireworks safety stressed

Auburn Fire Chief Mark D'Ambrogi also wants to remind residents that drinking and driving isn't the only thing prohibited in Auburn during July 4 celebrations.

"Fireworks are not allowed in this area at all," D'Ambrogi said. "People caught with fireworks can be subject to citation, which can carry a fine for both possession and using."

Though fireworks can be purchased in nearby Roseville and Sacramento, D'Ambrogi said the banishment of fireworks is primarily due to the risk of fire and injury in Auburn and other areas of Placer County.

Roseville Fire Marshal Jason Rizzi said while fireworks are permitted in his jurisdiction between June 28 and July 4, only the "safe and sane" variety will be tolerated.

"Safe and sane" fireworks can be categorized as those that do no explode, move across the ground erratically or shoot into the air. Any firework that goes off in any of that manner is considered illegal. Anyone caught with illegal fireworks will be cited and Rizzi said that carrying 25 pounds of illegal fireworks or more is considered a felony.

He said that residents using fireworks need to make an extra effort to make sure children are watched closely.

"Our big thing is to have a happy and safe Fourth of July and to make sure these young folks are monitored," Rizzi said.

It is also important to set off fireworks on concrete or asphalt so there is no risk of catching dry grass on fire. Rizzi also said it's a good idea to have a bucket of water or water hose on hand in case any fireworks get out of control.

In the event that a firework is lit, but doesn't go off, Rizzi said that it is important to not try to relight it or tamper with it. Instead, douse the firework in water for at least 15 minutes.

"The Fourth of July is a very busy day for the fire department," Rizzi said. "If used properly can be enjoyable safe thing, but if in wrong location they can cause a lot of harm."

 Boating Under the Influence a concern

The Placer County Sheriff's Office is also planning to be present and observant on the water in case boaters decide to drink while cruising around area lakes.

Dena Erwin, spokesperson for the sheriff's office, said two deputies are on board every boat designated to patrol Placer County lakes on weekends and holidays.

Those deputies look for any sign of impaired boating, which can include swerving, driving erratically, or speeding. They also look for other violations, like if passengers or operators aren't wearing a lifejacket.

"Everybody kind of weaves around on a boat but if they're speeding or speeding through a wake it would indicate they might be boating under the influence," Erwin said.

Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.