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Task Force Takes Aim at Drunk Drivers : Safety: Sheriff's units aided by a study grant have been patrolling seven South County cities intensely. The first checkpoint opens tonight.

July 30, 1994|JEFFREY BEAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MISSION VIEJO — Drivers might not know it, but specially assigned sheriff's deputies have been patrolling seven South County cities with the sole purpose of arresting drunk drivers. And tonight, Part 2 of their attack begins.

A sobriety checkpoint will be set up in Mission Viejo, the first of a series of checkpoints that will be conducted in South County under a two-year program that may be unique in the state.

The state Office of Traffic Safety awarded the Orange County Sheriff's Department a grant of $377,620 after officials there said they had never seen an entire region try to marshal forces to attack drunk driving, said Sheriff's Sgt. Fred Lisanti.

"They said it was unique," Lisanti said of the proposal he wrote with Sheriff's Sgt. Hal Brotheim. "They said no one from a sheriff's department that contracted with seven cities had ever asked for one. That caught their eye."

Each of the seven cities also will contribute $18,000. They are Mission Viejo, Lake Forest, Laguna Hills, Laguna Nigel, San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point and San Clemente.

Since the roving patrols began Jan. 1, deputies have arrested 85 people on suspicion of drunk driving, the bulk of them in recent months, about 15% more than in the previous six months, Lisanti said.

"I prefer the proactive approach and saving lives rather than focusing on the reactive, where we're picking up bodies, prosecuting someone for vehicular manslaughter or even second-degree murder," said Robert D. Breton, a Mission Viejo city councilman who works as a prosecutor.

"I think it's a very innovative, comprehensive way that enables us to coordinate with the other South County cities to combat a problem that knows no city boundaries."

Ann Van Haun, a Lake Forest councilwoman, said she also welcomed the multi-pronged program.

"It's always a tragedy when someone is drunk, gets behind the wheel and causes a wreck," Van Haun said.

Each city decides when to conduct roving patrols. A city can put from two to six patrol cars on the streets to search for drunk drivers, Lisanti said.

"The roving patrols are the enforcement tool," he said. "There's no ifs, ands or buts about it. They pull you over. If you're drunk, you go to jail."

The patrols have netted more than a quarter of the 315 drunk-driving arrests in the seven South County cities made from January to the end of June, Lisanti said. In the previous six months there were 270 arrests made for drunk driving, he said.

Tonight's first sobriety checkpoint will be set up from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m. at a undisclosed location.

Lisanti said that at least five sobriety checkpoints will be conducted in each of the seven Orange County cities by Dec. 31, 1995.

Correspondent Frank Messina contributed to this story.

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