Sunday, December 2, 2007

MADD meeting in California focuses on DUI situations

California DUI attorney

While in a crosswalk near a park where she was celebrating her fourth birthday, Santinia Pasquini was run over by a car driven by a 17-year-old girl allegedly California DUI - under the influence of alcohol and marijuana.

The teen didn't even know she had run over Pasquini until she was stopped a short time later.

She had previous drunken driving offenses and was driving on a suspended license, yet never received any consequences for almost ending the young girl's life.

Pasquini, now 31 and fully recovered, is one reason Vallejo Police Officer Ron Braxton has made arresting California DUI or drunk drivers a priority.

Braxton took a break from his police duties Saturday to pour coffee, clear plates and wipe down tables at Scotty's Restaurant in Vallejo to raise money for the Shasta County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Braxton, who joined the group after a dear friend, Shirley Lennon, was killed by a California DUI / drunken driver in 2005, wanted to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving.

"It has been a great turnout today. If I have helped save one person from being killed by a drunk driver, this has all been worth it," Braxton said.

With the help of other officers and a few hard-working Explorers - high school students who volunteer with the department - Saturday's fundraiser at Scotty's brought in more than $2,700.

The money will go to fund the Shasta County MADD chapter, as well as help get the new Solano chapter started early next year.

Braxton hopes to get community volunteers to help get the Solano chapter started, and is relying on Carmen Lopez, Pasquini's mother and member of the Shasta MADD chapter, to advise him.

"There are a lot of victims and survivors here in Solano County that want to do their part," Lopez said. "It is important that law enforcement and MADD work together."

Vallejo Lt. Lori Lee said Braxton arrests more DUI drivers than anyone else on the force; he has made 57 arrests so far this year, and was responsible for about a fifth of all California DUI arrests in Vallejo in 2006.

"Ron is very passionate and has put in tons of personal time, off-duty, fighting drunk driving," Lee said.

California DUI arrests require a lot of paperwork and can be very time consuming for police officers, already stretched thin due to understaffing, Lee said.

Unfortunately, officers often don't have time to arrest DUI offenders because of higher priority events demanding their attention, Lee said.

"It's incredible how close to people's hearts this issue is," said Offc. John Ehman, who was helping Braxton at the fundraiser. "I have heard so many stories today of people whose lives have been affected by drunk drivers."

Ehman himself was hit by a California DUI - drunk driver while sitting in his patrol car on a freeway in 1997.

Brian Ehman, 17, and Julio Jolivette, 16, Vallejo police Explorers who volunteered as waiters at the fundraiser, said they feel it is important to get the word out about the dangers of California DUI - drunk driving to people their age.

"A lot of high school kids drink; there are parties every weekend," Ehman said. "It can be hard to say no in front of all your friends, but you have to be the bigger person."

Jolivette said he didn't mind giving up his Saturday morning to volunteer at the MADD fundraiser.

"I think this is an awesome cause. I'm happy to do whatever the city needs," Jolivette said.

Braxton spreads his message about California drunk driving in his personal life as well, not just while wearing the badge.

His pick-up truck's tailgate is adorned with portraits of Pasquini, Lennon, and 15-year-old Reynauld White, who was killed by a California drunk driver in Vallejo in 2005.

No California DUI criminal defense lawyer was there to present another side.