Grandfather of DUI Victim Celebrates New Weapon Against Offenders

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, last year 375 people lost their lives in alcohol related crashes here in our state. Now South Mississippi law enforcers have a new weapon to help keep our roads safer. It's called a Blood Alcohol Trailer, or BAT.

On Christmas Eve 1994, Gary Thomas says a drunk driver changed his family's lives forever. That day his wife had been traveling on County Farm Road with their nine year old granddaughter Carla Thomas.

"My wife was going north and a drunk driver was coming south on County Farm," said Thomas. "He hit her head on and my granddaughter was on the back seat and killed her instantly. "

On Wednesday, police officers from the six southernmost counties got a close look at the new Blood Alcohol Trailer they'll be sharing. Officers say they will be able to analyze breath tests, do paperwork on lap tops and printers, and lock up eight drunk driving suspects at a time.

Adam Dedeaux works with the Gulfport Police Department's DUI enforcement team.

"You can bring it out to a four way intersection. Park it in a parking lot and if you stop a drunk driver in that area, you have everything in that area to do it. You don't have to put them in the car, bring them to the station and do your paperwork there. It just saves a lot of time."

Officers says when it comes to DUIs, the holiday season is especially dangerous.

"You have a lot more traffic on the road and the holiday season has always been a very priority time for enforcement and it's going to continue," said Lewis Husband of the Stone County Sheriff's Department. "With this piece of equipment that's being displayed here, it's just going to help us do our job much better."

Gary Thomas says after his granddaughter's death, he and his wife joined Mothers Against Drunk Driving in hopes of changing attitudes about the crime.

"I think people still feel DUI is an acceptable thing, even though it's not," he said. "So many deaths on the road. People are going to have to realize that the general public is not going to put up with this anymore."

Thirteen years after losing Carla, the Thomas family still hurts for the little girl who never got the chance to grow up.

"Tomorrow would have been her 22nd birthday. She was born on December 20th, 1985," he said. "Because of a drunk driver, she'll always be nine in our lives."

The Blood Alcohol Trailer was paid for with a grant from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.