Holiday DUI checkpoints are continuing in Southern California — here’s how one was carried out

Standing from a sidewalk, watching as cars streamed into a DUI checkpoint at the intersection of Holt Avenue and Union Avenue, Lt. Eddie Vazquez of the Pomona Police Department recalled previous checkpoints where drunken drivers would barrel through cones like bowling pins, at times slamming into other vehicles, or launching right past officers, prompting a high-speed chase.

This particular DUI checkpoint, though, held on a cold night just before the holidays on Friday, was without much incident at all.

  • Officers with the Pomona Police Department monitor a DUI checkpoint on Holt Avenue in Pomona Friday night December 21, 2018. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

  • Pomona Police Department volunteers monitor the number of vehicles passing through a DUI checkpoint on Holt Avenue in Pomona Friday night December 21, 2018. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

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  • A man removes his belongings out of his vehicle before it was impounded due to a past-due due registration at a DUI checkpoint on Holt Avenue in Pomona Friday night December 21, 2018. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

  • Pomona Police Department Detective J. Dolgovin monitors a DUI checkpoint in Pomona Friday night December 21, 2018. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

  • Pomona Police Department Detective J. Dolgovin checks a motorist’s drivers license at a DUI checkpoint on Holt Avenue in Pomona Friday night December 21, 2018 before being allowed to continue on his way. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

  • Officers with the Pomona Police Department monitor a DUI checkpoint on Holt Avenue in Pomona Friday night December 21, 2018. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

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Most of the 1,055 vehicles screened by officers that night had calmly pulled into the coned lanes. Officers asked for driver’s licenses, and perhaps added some questions of where they had been and if they had been drinking or smoking. Slurred speech, abnormal eye movement, red eyes and the scent of alcohol on their breath were signs officers looked for. And within seconds, with no incident, at times with a quick joke and laugh between driver and officer, most cars would be on their way down Holt Avenue.

“This is a fairly typical checkpoint, especially in this time of year,” Vazquez said. The largely uneventful evening was exactly how Vazquez, who has been on the job for nearly 30 years, prefers these nights to go. “I don’t like risk. I don’t like dangerous situations.”

Friday’s Pomona checkpoint, which went from 9 p.m. to about 2:30 a.m., was among many in the region over the weekend, with more planned this coming weekend leading up to New Year’s Eve.

Besides checkpoints, extra officers will be on the roads, monitoring drivers for signs of driving under the influence of alcohol, or other drugs, whether meth, cocaine, or the newly legalized marijuana, as well as prescription drugs.

DUI checkpoints, like Friday’s in Pomona, require a lot of planning and preparation.

The checkpoints are funded by the California Office of Traffic Safety, which receives money from the federal government, said Cpl. Robert Scheppmann of Pomona police’s Traffic Services Bureau. Agencies submit requests for the grant money. If approved by the state and city councils, a big chunk of the money goes to paying officers for overtime work at checkpoints. Other money goes to various education efforts for safe driving.

The Pomona Police Department received more than $500,000 during the 2018-2019 fiscal year, $400,000 of which is used to fund checkpoints.

Rights of drivers

In executing checkpoints, California agencies must toe the line of constitutionality and particularly 4th Amendment rights to privacy, abiding by eight guidelines set by a 1987 California Supreme Court case, Ingersoll vs. Palmer.

Agencies are required to publicly announce checkpoints before they happen, though they do not have to disclose their locations. Officers cannot target individuals at the checkpoints and need to select drivers with “neutrality.” In Pomona’s case, they vet every driver that goes through the checkpoint. Proper lighting, warning signs, and an opportunity to turn away prior to the checkpoint is required. The time and duration of the checkpoint needs to be reasonable. Drivers must always be detained for the shortest amount of time. And as for all the major planning decisions, a supervisor in the agency needs to be in charge.

Most of the decisions are driven by data and numbers. State officials hand out grant money with their annual goals in mind, among them, trying to reverse an upward trend of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities as numbers have been growing since 2012.

“Generally speaking, [state officials] do look at collision incidents and an area with a higher than normal amount of incidents,” said Timothy Weisberg, spokesman for the Office of Traffic Safety.

Protecting pedestrians

Pomona was seemingly a good place to focus.

According to data collected by the Office of Traffic Safety, in 2016, Pomona led nearly all cities in Los Angeles County in the number of alcohol-related traffic injuries or fatalities with 163. Only the much-larger cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach had more in the county. Across the state, compared with cities of similar population sizes, Pomona ranked 5th.

In most of these alcohol-related incidents in Pomona, pedestrians were victims.

Vazquez said the checkpoint’s location along Holt Avenue was selected because of the prevalence of pedestrian fatalities on the dimly lit street.

In recent years, Scheppmann said, numbers in Pomona have stayed relatively the same.

“The primary purpose of the checkpoints is to find DUI drivers and get them off the street, ’cause we don’t want to have the DUI driver injure others or injure themselves,” Scheppmann said. “The secondary part is checking the driver’s licenses. If you’re driving without a valid license, you’re cited for that.”

Officers who were on saturation patrols Friday night stopped and detained two drivers suspected of DUI.

But at the checkpoint, officers conducted zero field sobriety tests and made zero DUI arrests.

Though accessory to the primary concern of weeding out drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs, driver’s license infractions made up the bulk of the evening’s activity.

Officers handed out 24 citations, mostly for driver’s license-related issues. Fifteen cars were impounded as a result, while nine were returned to residents as drivers were given a chance to call family members or friends to reclaim them.

Licenses for the undocumented

These numbers are far below where they once were.

Vazquez remembered the tension at these checkpoints between police and residents who were undocumented or had family that were undocumented.

Before 2015 with the enactment of Assembly Bill 60, which allowed for undocumented immigrants to apply for and gain driver’s licenses, nights like this would draw scores of pro-immigrant protesters lining the sidewalks as police would impound 50 or even 100 vehicles in a single night, mostly for failure to show a driver’s license. This was common in Pomona and other cities with a majority Latino population and a large number of undocumented immigrants who, at the time, were barred from obtaining licenses.

While evolving laws have driven impound and citations numbers down, for those who are still roped in by officers at checkpoints, and for the lawyers who defend them in court, complaints and concerns still remain.

“It’s good for community safety but it ropes in a lot of people who probably shouldn’t be arrested,” said Hart Levin, an attorney who defends people charged with DUI, when speaking of checkpoints. “It’s like fishing with a massive net.”

People not driving under the influence and not posing any dangers to other drivers or pedestrians are caught in such checkpoint nets, Levin argued.

Impounded vehicles

Edward Bong, 32, of West Covina said he was on his way to his job at a hotel in Pomona when he was pulled over for an outdated license. He said had just returned from an extended stay in another country after a family member passed away. Bong had just started his job, working a 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, and was starting to resettle back in the daily grind of life. Renewing his license had slipped his mind. As a result, Bong was cited and his car was impounded at the stop.

A Pomona resident, Richard Plancarte, 22, said he was returning home from a concert in Los Angeles. He had just passed his driver’s license test two days earlier. His license was set to arrive in the mail and Plancarte said he had left his temporary license paperwork at home. He was cited for the error and his car was briefly impounded before his brother came to pick it up.

Jeremy Niebergall, 23, of Montclair said he was riding his motorcycle to a friend’s house in Pomona. He had saved up to buy the motorcycle nine months ago, and since then he was taking the necessary steps toward a motorcycle license. Niebergall said a DMV official had mistakenly told him his paperwork was a license, when in reality it was only a permit. The law restricts permit holders from riding their motorcycles at night. Niebergall said he didn’t know anyone with a truck to pick up the bike, and it was not registered under his name, so it would be towed to a lot and held there until Monday for a fee of $175 per night.

While checking for impairment and licensing issues, Pomona officers would let a lot of things go like broken headlights, tinted windows, illegal exhausts, bicyclists pedaling by with no lights; cars with green, blue and red Christmas lights lining their interior; and a car with blue headlights, all vehicle code infractions.

“We don’t enforce those things here. All about drunk driving, I’m tellin’ ya,” Vazquez said.

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Chino Hills man faces DUI vehicular manslaughter charge in 2017 crash in Orange County

SANTA ANA — A 25-year-old Chino Hills man made his first court appearance Monday on a vehicular manslaughter charge stemming from an allegedly alcohol-fueled crash on the Riverside (91) Freeway in Orange County.

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Julian Bautista was charged in April with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, with sentencing enhancements for allegedly inflicting great bodily injury on two additional victims, according to court records. Bautista was arrested Friday on a warrant charging him with manslaughter.

Bautista is accused of killing 21-year-old Guadalupe Ramirez of Lynwood in a March 25, 2017, collision near the Euclid Street off-ramp involving a Jeep and a Toyota. Two other victims were injured in the crash that occurred about 2:40 a.m. in the Anaheim/Fullerton area.

Bautista is accused of “inattention” and driving at an unsafe speed, according to court records.

Bautista’s arraignment Monday was rescheduled for July 27.

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Man pleads guilty in DUI crash that killed a child and his uncle in Santa Ana

SANTA ANA — A 38-year-old Santa Ana man is facing a six-year sentence for a DUI crash that killed another man and his 6-year-old nephew in Santa Ana, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Armando Edgar Duran Cruz pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter and driving drunk causing injury, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Whitney Bokosky.

Cruz, who is scheduled to be sentenced July 20, accepted a plea bargain from Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert Fitzgerald.

David Wayne Cote, who was 54, and his nephew, Ivan Sandoval, were fatally injured in the Aug. 3, 2015, crash.

Cote, of Santa Ana, at the time was the legal guardian of the boy, who had lost his mother to cancer not long before the collision.

Investigators initially suspected that Cote — who was driving under the influence of marijuana, morphine and two beers — was at fault for the collision, Bokosky said. Further investigation determined that Cruz was speeding, though not to a great degree, but had a blood-alcohol level of .29 at the time of the crash, the prosecutor said.

Cruz has a prior conviction in 2008 for driving under the influence, Bokosky said.

Ivan was in the front seat of his uncle’s older-model BMW sedan, but should have been in a booster seat, which was in the back seat of the car, according to Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna. State law mandates children must be 8 years old or 80 pounds before they can ride up front without using a booster seat.

Cote’s stepdaughter, Jeanette Moreno, told Fitzgerald before Monday’s hearing that Ivan was a “vibrant” boy.

“He was constantly doing typical boy activities such as riding his bike, skateboard or Razor scooter,” Moreno said. “When Ivan played, he played hard.”

She said Ivan and her daughter were “extremely close” and had their own pretend language.

“We have been robbed of all the joy he brought us,” Moreno said. “There is not a day that passes that I don’t think of my baby brother; Ivan will be forever loved and missed.”

She said her stepfather was an “all-around family man … His children meant the world to him. I remember being pregnant and even though he had just got home from a long drive and a long day’s work, he doted on me hand and foot.”

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Teen arrested for DUI following high-speed chase that ended in crash

SEAL BEACH >> A teenage boy allegedly driving under the influence led police on a chase exceeding 100 mph from Seal Beach to Westminster Monday afternoon.

A Seal Beach officer attempted to pull over the driver at Westminster and Seal Beach boulevards about 3:10 p.m., said Seal Beach police Sgt. Michael Henderson. But the suspect, whose name and age were withheld, refused to stop, triggering the high-speed chase that lasted about two miles before Seal Beach police backed off due to safety concerns, he said.

A short time later, the suspect crashed the vehicle into a parked car at College Street and Westminster Boulevard and tried to run away, but was arrested in short order, Henderson said.

The teen was booked on suspicion of driving under the influence, Henderson said.

One passenger in the car complained of pain and was taken to an area hospital, and two other passengers escaped injury, Henderson said.

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Man arrested on suspicion of DUI after pickup crashes into Santa Ana police vehicle

Santa Ana Police arrested a 54-year-old man on suspicion of driving under the influence after he crashed his pickup truck into a police vehicle.

At about 1:20 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 21 a Santa Ana Police officer was responding to a call when Ignacio Roldan-Peralto, driving a 2014 Chevy Silverado with a female passenger, made a left turn on Jackson Street and 1st Street directly in front of the police officer, said Santa Ana Commander Jeffrey Smith.

The two vehicles collided in the middle of the intersection, causing major damage to both vehicles involved, Smith said. The Orange County Fire Authority were called and transported the officer, who was not named, to a local hospital. Smith said the officer is in a good condition.

  • A Santa Ana Police car and a truck collided at the intersection of 1st at Jackson in Santa Ana sending the officer to the hospital. (Photo by Chad Hoctor, Southern Counties News)

    A Santa Ana Police car and a truck collided at the intersection of 1st at Jackson in Santa Ana sending the officer to the hospital. (Photo by Chad Hoctor, Southern Counties News)

  • A Santa Ana Police car and a truck collided at the intersection of 1st at Jackson in Santa Ana sending the officer to the hospital. (Photo by Chad Hoctor, Southern Counties News)

    A Santa Ana Police car and a truck collided at the intersection of 1st at Jackson in Santa Ana sending the officer to the hospital. (Photo by Chad Hoctor, Southern Counties News)

  • A Santa Ana Police car and a truck collided at the intersection of 1st at Jackson in Santa Ana sending the officer to the hospital. (Photo by Chad Hoctor, Southern Counties News)

    A Santa Ana Police car and a truck collided at the intersection of 1st at Jackson in Santa Ana sending the officer to the hospital. (Photo by Chad Hoctor, Southern Counties News)

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Roldan-Peralto and his passenger were uninjured, Smith said.

Police conducted a field examination on Roldan-Peralto, of Santa Ana, and found he was driving while intoxicated, police said. He was arrested on suspicion of DUI and transported to the Santa Ana Jail.

Smith said the crash remains under investigation.

 

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