California DUI attorney newsO
A tragic night defines anti-DUI leader's mission
12/14/2007 03:22:00 AM PST
Cpl. Robert Duvall of the Contra Costa Sheriff's Office heads the county's... (NADER KHOURI/STAFF)«1»In a memory of an accident scene that the years cannot erase, Contra Costa sheriff's Cpl. Robert Duvall still shudders when thinking about Jan. 7, 1994.
It was a blink of time that took lives and gave Duvall's life a new meaning.
The family's vehicle had been struck on the passenger side at 70 mph by one of two drivers racing on San Pablo Avenue, as the family car turned onto Hilltop Drive. One of the racers had run a red light, according to Duvall and Richmond police.
Duvall, then a Richmond fire paramedic who was sent to the scene, first saw the racer's vehicle and then the family's vehicle, which had been knocked into a ravine. It had flipped, landing on the wheels.
A boy inside was screaming, saying his sister with him in the back seat was dead. A woman in the front, Doreen Roberts, 37, of Pinole, was dead. Another woman in the front was critically injured. An occupant of the other car, Jerald Tyler, 17, of El Sobrante, also died.
Duvall long ago discarded the old newspaper story about it, but he still gets cold chills.
Tabitha Rajen, 2, of San Pablo, had blonde hair but eyes that did not register. Duvall gently removed her and took her up the hill, where firefighters from four engines moved like clockwork, their urgency seemingly chaotic to the untrained eye.
"The scene came to a stop," Duvall recalled, as all eyes locked onto him and Tabitha. "Everybody just paused."
She was taken to what was then Brookside Hospital in San Pablo.
Duvall walked by Room 4, where her body lay beneath a sheet.
He grabbed a teddy bear, tucked it beneath her arm, walked outside to his emergency vehicle and, along with his partner, sat on the bumper and wept.
It turned out that one of the racers had been smoking marijuana.
So began Duvall's mission: To stop every single impaired driver he would ever see again.
"Being a paramedic is a very honorable profession. I love saving lives," Duvall said. "But it's a purely reactionary job."
He entered police work.
Duvall joined the Sheriff's Office in 1998, became an Orinda police officer, formed the city's Traffic Safety Unit and became DUI coordinator.
He went on to work as a county parole officer and now is a deputy investigator in the Contra Costa Coroner's Office. In addition, he is still a licensed paramedic.
In 2005 Duvall took over county's Avoid the 25 anti-DUI campaign, so named for the county's 25 law enforcement agencies.
It is a role in which Duvall is in his element. The tag on his personal vehicle reads: "AVOID25."
Duvall's superiors asked Sheriff Warren Rupf to make Duvall the permanent coordinator. The state's Office of Traffic Safety noted that the Contra Costa "Avoid" campaign has become one of the smoothest-run in the state. He manages a $290,000 state grant and has planned and supervised DUI checkpoints and warrant sweeps involving hundreds of officers.
Dozens of officers kick off the 2007 campaign tonight in what they call saturation patrols, specifically to detect and arrest impaired drivers, the local complement of similar efforts in all nine Bay Area counties, including the California Highway Patrol's Maximum Enforcement Period operations.
If they look, then they will find them.
A total of 4,056 adults and juveniles were arrested on suspicion of DUI in 2006, including 116 felony offenses. A total of 38 people died in alcohol-related crashes on county roads last year, and 618 were injured.
This year, DUI checkpoints are planned in Concord tonight; in San Pablo on Saturday; in Lafayette on Dec. 27; and in Hercules on Dec. 29. A countywide DUI warrant sweep will be Thursday.
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Candle flames flickered bravely in the chill air Wednesday night outside the Community and Cultural Center as a group of concerned citizens - adults, teens, children and even a dog - joined together to remember the victims of drunk drivers and to raise awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving.
Signs carried by participants proclaimed: "Addiction is not a moral issue, it's a disease," "Every 28 minutes a drunk driver kills in the U.S," "Friends don't let friends drink and drive," "Remember those affected by drunk drivers."
The group of more than 25 included Morgan Hill Mayor Steve Tate and Police Chief Bruce Cumming, as well as several out-of-towners who had heard about the event and wanted to join in.
Organizers hoped to raise awareness of the issue in advance of the annual Avoid the 13 campaign which kicks off today. Law enforcement agencies all over Santa Clara County are stepping up DUI enforcement during the holiday period, typically a dangerous time of year on the roadways.
Wednesday evening's vigil was a collaboration between the Community Substance Abuse Prevention Partnership and the Morgan Hill Police Department. Francisco Dominguez, coordinator for the partnership, said he was pleased at the turnout, especially the number of teenagers who participated.
Bill Nolan, the executive director of the Nolan Foundation, a community advocacy organization promoting community collaboration and safety awareness, came from Milpitas to attend the vigil.
"It's really good to see young people taking a step forward to stop drinking and driving," he said.
Mark Soto, a substance abuse counselor in Santa Cruz County, said he was invited to the vigil by a friend, and could relate the anti-DUI holiday message as in his work he sees people struggling with the devastating effects of drinking and driving.
He told the teens in the crowd that their participation in the event was a form of taking control, rather than allowing alcohol or drugs to take control of them.
Cumming told the crowd that the number of DUI accidents and arrests is "ridiculous for a town of this size." He added that there were 10 DUI arrests the previous weekend.
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