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Countywide Crackdown on Drunk Drivers


In Los Angeles County's largest-ever coordinated effort to get intoxicated motorists off the road, a coalition of law enforcement agencies will simultaneously stage drunk-driving checkpoints at 24 locations tonight.

Police expect to nab between 500 and 1,000 drunk drivers from Malibu to Long Beach, starting after sundown. The efforts will be dedicated to the memory of La Habra Police Officer Michael Osornio, who was killed when a drunk driver plowed into his police car on Halloween night.

"We are trying to put the message out that if you are going to drive under the influence, there is a high likelihood you are going to get arrested," said Alhambra Police Chief Russ Siverling, president of the Los Angeles County Peace Officers Assn., which is organizing the crackdown.

Siverling said his group, armed with a $230,000 state grant, started planning the event months ago. However, in the wake of Osornio's death, the group figured the crackdown would also be an appropriate way to honor the officer.

Normally, checkpoints are done by each agency individually; this is the first time they have been coordinated across the county.

Osornio, 26, a former contractor who joined the La Habra Police Department last year, was fatally injured Oct. 31 when a drunk-driving suspect ran a red light and smashed into his cruiser, demolishing it and pinning the officer inside.

The driver of the car, who has been charged with gross vehicular manslaughter, was found to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.18%--more than twice the legal limit of 0.08%. Osornio was the first officer on the city's police force to be killed on duty.

"The law enforcement community is like a family," Siverling said. "When someone's life is taken needlessly, you find that the family comes together to support one another."

Osornio's father, Rafael, lauded the efforts. "Maybe we can get someone else off the streets and prevent another tragedy," he said.

"This is something we are doing for all victims of drunk driving," said La Habra Chief Steve Staveley.

Siverling said police picked tonight for the massive show of force because it falls on the weekend before Thanksgiving. "People consume a lot more over the holidays," he said. "We are trying to get the message out before then."

The event was organized with the assistance of Jan Nichols, a police department volunteer whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver in 1981. Nichols said he wrote to the state last year to secure the $230,000 grant to fund the checkpoints and other activities to get drunk drivers off the roads.

"I figured, why not start the holidays with a bang?" Nichols said.

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