Tifton Gazette


January 14, 2013

MADD South Georgia thanks law enforcement and volunteers

MOULTRIE — MADD South Georgia — which Mothers Against Drunk Drivers named its national Chapter of the Year last year — paused Saturday to thank law enforcement officers and volunteers who helped them work toward their goals in 2012. Several area law enforcement officers, agencies, a sheriff and volunteers were recognized for their efforts to keep drunk drivers off the roads, streets and highways.

One hundred twenty-six awards were prepared for the group’s Fifth Annual Banquet, although due to absences several of those were not presented to their recipients at the event.

Locals recognized and awarded included Ashburn Police Department’s Sgt. Michael Welch with 17 DUI arrests; Norman Park Police Department’s Jared Godwin with the Norman Park Police Dept. with two arrests; Omega Police Department’s Tim Bruner with nine arrests; Tift County Sheriff’s Office’s deputies Brian Sumner with 32 arrests, Christopher Spires with 13 arrests and James Lindsey with 11 arrests; Tifton Police Department’s officers Shane Benefield with 19 arrests, Jared Godwin with 19 arrests and Chance Howell with 15 arrests.

Tift County Sheriff’s Office’s Lt. James Partain was chosen as Officer of the Year for his actions against drunk driving and his work to support the mission of MADD. South Georgia judges Herbert Benson, Chase Daughtrey, Martha Gray, David Herndon, Richard Kent and J.J. McMillan were also honored for their support of MADD’s mission. Also recognized for their volunteerism with MADD events was Karen Ambrose, Melissa Hall, Tara Rakestraw and Tift County Sheriff Gene “Tarzan” Scarbrough for their participation in Walk-like-MADD and Premonition band members Don Golden, Bobby Moore and Craig Tompkins for their participation in MADD’s ROCK-like-MADD event.

The keynote speaker, Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, praised MADD for its advocacy efforts, which he credited in part for continued decreases in traffic deaths in Georgia.

But it was a near thing, Blackwood told the audience of about 150, most of them law enforcement officers.

In November, he said, the state was on track for a 4 to 8 percent increase in traffic fatalities over 2011. Instead, with enhanced law enforcement and education, the preliminary numbers indicate a slight decrease. It was the seventh straight year of decline.

The state’s roads had 1,226 fatalities last year, Blackwood said. One in four of those were due to a drunk driver.

“I believe by the time we reach the end of 2015, we can bring that number below 1,000,” he said.

Other emphases for the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety are child passenger seats and teen driving laws, Blackwood said.

“If somebody gets behind the wheel drunk, they’ve made a decision,” he said. “… Little children don’t have that choice.”

Statewide, 95 percent of children are strapped into appropriate car seats, he said, but in rural Georgia that percentage drops below 30 percent in some counties.

Blackwood described a recent crash in Toombs County. Five people were thrown from the car, including a mother holding a baby in her arms, another child and two young people in the back seat.

“It’s my understanding all five survived,” Blackwood said, “but they’re in a mess.”

Education will be key, especially for those who come to Georgia from other cultures where seat belt use is not so common.

A legislative push will be made this year, Blackwood said, to further limit the privileges of 16-year-old drivers. Currently, a 16-year-old, licensed driver can transport up to three non-family members as passengers. The GOHS wants that number cut to one. Fewer passengers would mean fewer distractions for the inexperienced driver, he said.

“They can go on a prom date but they can’t double-date,” he said.

Blackwood also praised the increasing number of accountability courts that redirect DUI offenders away from the penal system and into treatment programs.

“We need to be sure to get drunk drivers off the road,” he emphasized, “and one way to do that is to get them some help.”

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