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Officials issue New Year’s Eve warning: Drink, drive, go to jail

After a year of deadly crashes and an increase in DUI arrests, Sheriff Joe Lombardo and District Attorney Steve Wolfson have a stern warning for anyone who tries to drink and drive on New Year’s Eve.

“Hear it now and hear it clear: If you drive after drinking, you will go to jail,” Wolfson said at a Monday morning news conference. “If you drive after drinking and you injure or kill someone, you will go to prison.”

The Metropolitan Police Department saw an 11 percent increase in DUI arrests this year, Lombardo said, and every year Las Vegas police respond to a deadly crash that’s “in direct correlation to New Year’s Eve celebrations.”

Lombardo said Metro and other law enforcement agencies will “saturate” the Las Vegas Valley on New Year’s Eve to bust drunken drivers. Wolfson warned that his office will crack down to ensure that people facing DUI charges serve jail or prison time.

“DUI is a unique crime. It’s not made out of emotion, desperation or grief, it’s made out of ignorance,” Lombardo said.

Sandy Heverly of STOP DUI, a Nevada nonprofit dedicated to curbing DUI crashes and supporting victims, said that by midnight on Monday, at least 749 people across the United States will have been killed or injured in a DUI crash, and that number would only escalate over the following two days.

AAA Nevada also released a study this year on Las Vegas highway crashes, which found police respond to an average of one crash an hour on New Year’s Eve and the first day of the year.

The highest concentration of crashes on those dates from from Dec. 31, 2014, through Jan. 1, 2017, were reported in the resort corridor, particularly on Interstate 15 between the Spaghetti Bowl and Tropicana Avenue.

Nevada Highway Patrol Lt. Col. Daniel Solow also spoke at the news conference and said intoxicated drivers are the No. 1 cause of fatal or injury crashes on Nevada highways, followed by speeding, distracted driving and not wearing a seat belt.

Wolfson also warned about speeding on the New Year’s holiday and at every other time of year. He read portions of letters he received from the family of 86-year-old Fernando Cosca Benliro, who was killed in a crash involving two drivers who were traveling at more than 80 mph in a 35 mph zone.

“(Benliro) did not deserve this death. This tragedy might have happened to anybody,” one of his nephews wrote to Wolfson. “It might have killed the dreams of a 5-year-old, a father going home to his family for dinner or a son who just wants to visit his mother.”

The Regional Transportation Commission is offering free rides from 6 p.m. on New Year’s Eve to 9 a.m. on New Year’s Day on all of its 39 routes in Las Vegas.

Heverly said friends, relatives, taxis and ride-sharing apps also are available to people who find they’re too tipsy to drive home after New Year’s celebrations.

“And for those who may be the ones who do drive under the influence,” Heverly said, “Listen up: Just because you’ve been able to get home safely countless times without being arrested, or because you’ve been able to get home without killing or injuring anyone yet, you are not the exception to the rule.”

Contact Max Michor at mmichor@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0365. Follow @MaxMichor on Twitter.

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