Analysis: Williamsburg police charge motorists with DUIs at higher rate than James City and York

Staff writer

With just nine square miles of land within in its boundaries, the City of Williamsburg is a geographically small place. That hasn’t stopped the Williamsburg Police Department from punching above its weight when it comes to combating drunk driving.

In an analysis performed by The Virginia Gazette, law enforcement officials in James City, York and Williamsburg have charged motorists nearly 1,800 times in four years with driving under the influence of intoxicants such as alcohol or drugs.

Click on a pinpoint or hotspot to see more information. Use CTRL + scroll to zoom in on the map on a desktop computer. Use two fingers to swipe on a mobile device. The addresses listed on the map show where an incident was reported and does not indicate that any person living at that address was involved. As the Williamsburg police validates about ten incident locations the DUI map will update automatically. Incidents outside the city’s patrol zone were likely due to officer error.

Locations reported in The Virginia Gazette’s DUI mapping analysis were provided by police under multiple Freedom of Information Act requests.

In the City of Williamsburg, there were more than 450 charges of driving under the influence made against motorists between 2014 and 2018.

In neighboring James City County, motorists were charged more than 930 times with driving under the influence, and in York County about 415 drivers were similarly charged in the same period.

In York alone, nearly 80 percent of all DUI stops resulted in an arrest. The rest of the cases are under active investigation or pending arrest warrants. Only one DUI stop in the past four years was considered unfounded.

For Williamsburg Police Department Chief Sean Dunn, the data is unsurprising.

“Certainly it reinforces my belief that the officers — just during the course of their routine patrol — are remaining vigilant and helping to affect as safe a driving environment as possible for our residents and our visitors,” Dunn said. “DUIs are certainly one of those things, driving drunk is a very dangerous thing. I’m very happy to see our officers take it very seriously.”

The Virginia Gazette analysis includes every case of driving under the influence, including those instances where a person was charged with multiple crimes.

DUI enforcement officers across the area are focused on major thoroughfares such as Richmond Road, the Humelsine Parkway, Jamestown Road and Longhill Road, according to the analysis. Many dead-end neighborhoods — ones that are either gated or do not connect one major thoroughfare to another — and rural neighborhoods had no DUIs at all.

“Most of our DUI arrests occur along the larger, most traveled roads,” York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office crime analyst Sgt. Adam Cooper wrote in an email. “Unless we get a call from a citizen, DUIs are basically observed while deputies are on routine patrol or on DUI patrol.”

Carver Gardens, Kingsmill and neighborhoods near the Chickahominy River had zero DUI charges against motorists in the past four years. Generally, deputies in York do not patrol tertiary roads and residential streets for DUIs unless they observe and follow a potential DUI suspect or if a resident calls in a specific potential DUI, Cooper said.

Drunk driving is a deadly local, statewide and national problem.

“We had six fatalities in 2017 related to DUI incidents,” James City County Police Department spokeswoman Stephanie Williams said. “We had 34 injuries in crashes in 2017 — those are significant numbers. It's very dangerous, especially nowadays with so many travel options available like taxis or Ubers.

“It's very easy to avoid driving under the influence. We encourage people to always arrange for a ride home if they're going to go out drinking prior to going out. Six fatalities in a year because of negligent behavior in addition to being illegal, that speaks for itself.”

In April 2016, a Mathews County man was sentenced to 22 years behind bars for a 2015 wrong-side-of-the-road, head-on drunk driving crash that killed a Williamsburg man on Pocahontas Trail in James City County.

The judge presiding over that case said he wanted to send a message that drunk driving was unacceptable, according to The Virginia Gazette archives.

“There are too many DUI cases. It’s almost like playing Russian Roulette,” Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court Judge Michael E. McGinty said before the man’s sentencing. McGinty added that he wanted the sentence to show the community that driving drunk is not acceptable.

More than 2,500 people in Virginia have died as a result of a crash involving a drunk driver between 2003 and 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Drunk drivers plague the country’s roads as more than a quarter of motor vehicle deaths in the country involve a drunk driver, according to the CDC. In 2016, that was more than 10,000 people.

Strong enforcement of laws, stronger laws and education on the cost of drunk driving are part of the reason there has been a national trend of fewer annual episodes of drunk driving — instances where drivers knew they drank too much alcohol and drove anyway — among adults from 1993 to 2014, according to the CDC.

In 1993, there were 123 million drunk driving episodes in the United States. Nearly two decades later, that figure fell to 111 million drunk driving episodes.

Greater Williamsburg’s law enforcement agencies have said they will continue to fight against drivers under the influence.

“This map that you have shows the frequency of it,” Williams said. “That's scary to think that there are this many people drunk, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs while driving. We receive grant funds from the Department of Motor Vehicles to do additional DUI patrols in the county. Based on this map, it certainly appears that need is there.”

Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at srobertsjr@vagazette.com and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.

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