GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport made 20 drunk driving arrests last weekend. And its officers are prepared to throw a lot more DUI suspects in jail over the Fourth of July holiday. The "Over the Limit, Under Arrest" campaign is part of a vigorous law enforcement effort to make sure Mississippi roadways remain safe.
That vigorous effort this holiday weekend will include a variety of roadblocks, and an emphasis on seatbelt safety. Brian Smith is coordinating Gulfport's police presence. "There's just not enough to be said about the importance of wearing the seatbelt, what it can do to save lives," he said. "Also, we're aggressively going after DUI's this holiday season."
How quickly can an accident change a person's life? A mangled Toyota sat in a salvage yard on 36th Street. It belonged to a Gulfport Seabee who's about to be deployed. Her car was northbound on Highway 49 over the weekend when the unthinkable happened. "She was struck by an SUV," said Bryan Ladnier. He's the tow truck operator dispatched to the wreck.
The impact mangled the back bumper, and pushed the car into the vehicle ahead of it. Ladnier said it was yet another example of how somebody's mistake behind the wheel could hurt several people. "I'm not worried about the metal. I'm worried about the flesh and blood, the people behind the wheels, the people riding within them," said Ladnier.
In the weekend wreck, the Seabee was slightly injured. While at the salvage yard on Wednesday to pick a few items out of her car, she said she had returned to work, and still planned to be with her mates when NMCB 74 deployed overseas.
Like so many other tow truck drivers around south Mississippi, Ladnier is on call 24 hours a day. Whenever his phone rings, there's a chance somebody tore up a fender, smashed a windshield, or dented a door. He said the worst calls come at "3:30-4:00 on a Sunday morning, usually from the highway patrol. That means that somebody somewhere is upside down off the side of the road, been in a bad wreck."
It was an incident near 42nd Avenue and Highway 90 that Ladnier came across Tuesday that got him so mad, he called WLOX. The incident was a one year old child, flying out of a car, and onto the roadway. The toddler was taken to the hospital. Gulfport police later confirmed that none of the three children in that care were either restrained in car seats, or wearing seatbelts.
"Buckle up. Keep your safe inside your vehicle. It's not you, it may be the other person that you have to worry about," warned Ladnier. "I can honestly say I've never unbuckled a dead man. Seatbelts save lives."
Seatbelt usage and DUI enforcement will be focal points for police this weekend as they do what they can to keep holiday travelers out of ambulances. "You'll see a lot of extra officers out, mostly on the main thoroughfares," said Smith. "But we will also be doing roadblocks throughout the city. So the public can expect to see that quite a bit."
AAA predicts that around the country, traffic will be down about two-and-a-half percent compared to last Fourth of July. Ironically, a gallon of gas is cheaper this year. The average price is $2.50 right now. Last Fourth of July, Mississippians paid $3.92 per gallon.