It almost sounds like a Christmas carol: 27 traffic tickets, 10 warnings, eight 24-hour driving suspensions and two impaired driving investigations.
But those are actually the results from a couple of Counterattack roadblocks the RCMP staged over a Christmas weekend, and police are promising there are more to come this holiday season.
While just two drivers are facing possible criminal charges, Kelowna RCMP spokesman Const. Steve Holmes said the roadside suspension are equally important enforcement tools when trying to get drunk drivers off the road.
“We’re effectively dealing with the problem, not just through criminal code charges, but just to get people off the road with 24-hour suspensions.”
The choice between a suspension and a criminal charge typically comes down to the blood-alcohol level a breathalyzer detects from a person. A range just slightly above the legal limit generally results in the 24-hour prohibition.
The Counterattack sites are staffed by officers working overtime, but Holmes said today there is also the potential for more spur-of-the-moment checks organized by cops who have some free time while on shift.
Meanwhile, cops in Vernon staged roadchecks around that city on Friday night that resulted in five impaired driving charges, 10 24-hour suspensions and a number of tickets for non-Criminal code offences. Another man was charged with dangerous driving, another was arrested on an outstanding warrant and another was arrested for illegal immigrant status.
On Saturday night, the Vernon RCMP held another roadcheck and came up with one impaired driving charge and two 24-hour suspensions.
Posted: 09/12/20/ 2:35 p.m.
By Gary Moore
The call came in from RCMP at about 7 p.m. Counterattack had been launched and Kelowna.com was invited to the war on drinking and driving.
We were told the location only after officers had taken up their positions.
On Glenmore Road near the Kelowna Golf and Country club, eight members lined the wet and dark road slowing traffic as it crested the small hill, unaware what was waiting for them on the other side.
A car is pulled over and a few members searched a suspect well known to them while the others removed empty beer cans from the older model Honda. They found nothing and the Honda disappeared into the night.
Constable Brendan Harkness approaches and offers a warm welcome. He puts his hat on then offers insight into the operation.
“Given that it’s around the holiday season it’s obviously in the public interest to check for impaired drivers, so what we are doing tonight is checking vehicles to see if the drivers have been drinking any alcohol at all tonight,” Harkness tells Kelowna.com. Saturday night. “Historically it’s been called Counterattack and given the season we are starting it at this point just because there are a lot of holiday parties going on.”
“It is early in the evening but people do like to drink during the day. We also check for various other things, drivers licences, insurance, that sort of thing,” he adds.
During the Counterattack it didn’t take long before the first casualty came face to face with a breathalyzer, a device for estimating blood alcohol content from a breath sample.
He was a young guy in a large truck that could potentially be a killing machine with every alcoholic beverage. He doesn’t fight or argue and offers a sample to an officer. He fails and is taken to the Kelowna detachment. Not long after, a flat bed tow truck takes the vehicle to the lot.
“We are here for a reason, people make personal decisions at the time that we end up having to investigate. We still do get a lot of impaired drivers out there and that’s why we are out here to make sure people are aware that we are here and to make better decisions and choices,” Harkness says.
As the evening progresses, more and more vehicles fall into the Counterattack web for various offenses including no insurance which cost one driver a $600 fine. Others included Notice and Order which is for minor vehicle defects – like a woman in a Sprint who almost gassed the members in a swirl of toxic smoke.
Two vehicle stops – one resulting in a 12 hour suspension – were for suspicion of smoking marijuana.
“People seem to think because they live in Kelowna, pot is socially acceptable and they think they can drive while stoned as long as they don’t drink and drive,” one officer at the scene explains.
The next impaired driver shows up in in a work truck with the company logo plastered to the side. Harkness quickly pulls the vehicle off the road and subjects the intoxicated male to a breathalyzer, which he fails. He pleads with Harkness but to no avail. He is carted off to the detachment, leaving his drunk passenger to stumble off into the night.
“My personal opinion is if you are going to drink they should always have a designated driver; regardless I would always suggest that that is the best strategy just to make sure all parties are safe,” Harkness says.
The procedure that follows varies depending on your state of intoxication.
“There are varying levels of charges and we can charge under the Provincial Motor Vehicle Act as well as the Criminal Code of Canada depending on the impairment of the person at the time. That will dictate whether we pursue criminal charges or whether we just stick to the Motor Vehicle Act,” explains Harkness.
“‘Tis the season and we all want to have fun and we can’t forget about the people who have lost their lives as a result of impaired driving accidents, so I encourage people to be smart. We all want to go home at the end of the night.”
So before you decide to get behind the wheel after drinking remember that over that next hill or around that next corner the boys in blue will be waiting for you.
Photos by Gary Moore.