Drunk drivers in the Muskogee area stand a good chance of celebrating the arrival of 2019 from a jail cell thanks to stepped up patrols and checkpoints by local law enforcement.
The Muskogee Police Department plans on having a "DUI shift" on New Year's Eve, said Public Information Officer Lincoln Anderson.
"We're going to have extra officers out looking specifically for people drinking and driving," Anderson said.
In 2017, 656 people were killed in crashes in Oklahoma; almost half of those (324) were killed in drug/alcohol-related crashes. This is up from 43 percent killed in drug/alcohol-related crashes in 2016 in Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office.
Officer Ken Long, with the Fort Gibson Police Department, said that his department will be setting up safety checkpoints.
"We're just going to check and make sure headlights, tail lights and turn signals are working properly," Long said. "If we notice anything like the odor of alcohol, that means we're going to do further investigation."
Long said he hoped the presence of checkpoints would stymie the urge to drink and drive.
"If you're going to be drinking, it's not going to be a good idea to drive and roam around," he said. "If you know those checkpoints are there, we're hoping that will stop you."
Wagoner County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Jeff Halfacre said people planning to drink on New Year's should plan ahead to account for their intake.
"You can always have a designated driver. We don’t really have an Uber that I know of, but I know there’s local taxi services that can be of use," Halfacre said. "You can set a rule for yourself to have no alcoholic drinks at least two hours before the party ends. That can kind of alleviate that. You can just have families, friends, people like that have a plan set up to come get you if it comes up."
Halfacre also noted that those waking up early on New Year's Day after an evening of drinking may still be intoxicated.
"When you wake up, if you feel intoxicated you still could be, and that could be an issue if you come into contact with law enforcement," Halfacre said.
Muskogee County District Attorney Orvil Loge said the consequences could be dire for motorists caught driving under the influence.
"They’re facing jail time for their first DUI, up to a year in the county jail in addition to all fines and costs associated for driving while intoxicated," Loge said. "They face the risk of losing their license for a period of time. I’m sure their insurance rates will probably skyrocket."
Driving while under the influence or while intoxicated is considered a "predicate crime," which means each subsequent conviction is accompanied by increasingly severe punishment, Loge said.
"Second and subsequent becomes a felony," Loge said. "They would be facing felony penalties of prison and/or in-patient treatments in addition to fines, costs and license revocation."
Accidents from intoxication that result in serious injury or death carry long-term prison sentences, Loge added. The tough approach reflects how law enforcement views the crime, he said.
"It's serious. We take it seriously," he said.