EASLEY, SC (WSPA)–The Easley Police Department will use more than $230,000 in grant funding to aggressively enforce and prosecute cases of driving under the influence (DUI).
Officials said DUI cases have been on the rise in the city.
“DUI’s in the city have been increasing each year. As well as fatalities increasing. For this last year, we were at six fatalities in the city limits of Easley, which some are DUI related. Our DUI numbers keep growing, which is telling us that our roadways are unsafe from DUI or from impaired drivers,” said Michael Ambrose, Uniform Patrol Sgt. at the Easley Police Department.
In 2020, the department saw 110 DUI cases. Since January 1, 2021, the force has seen 143 DUI cases.
“So the first grant that we received is the Impaired Driving Grant. Impaired Driving Countermeasures is what it’s called through the South Carolina Department of Public Safety. That grant gives us a vehicle for an officer to drive. It’s gives us the officer’s salary. It also gives us any other equipment needed for that officer to go out here and find the impaired drivers within the city limits of Easley and reduce fatalities,” Ambrose said.
The Easley Police Department said in a release that the $134,577 grant will “allow the department to pay $71,000 in salary and benefits for a traffic officer” with the remaining funding going towards the purchase of the officer’s vehicle and other necessary equipment.
Ambrose said the officer will go after aggressive drivers.
“That person would be going after any kind of aggressive driver and things of that nature to help with any of our fatalities. Hopefully our fatality numbers will go down with this aggressive enforcement,” Ambrose said. “Obviously he will do increased traffic stops for failure to maintain lane. People driving left to center. People at a high rates of speed, reckless driving,” he said.
One Upstate mom said she’s happy this is happening, after her son was killed in the Spartanburg area.
“I feel like that is great thing. That is awesome to hear. I feel like it will help out a lot with catching the underage drunk drivers,” said Mary Parks, mother of Brandon Stites.
“This is actually the 6th year, my son Brandon was a senior at Woodruff High School, and he was killed in an underage drunk driving accident,” Parks said.
Her son was a passenger in a car with an underage drunk driver when he was killed.
“No one ever expects to lose a child. Losing my son has really devastated myself and my other children. I do have three boys, so it’s been very very hard to accept that he’s no longer with us and it took a toll on my life and my whole family’s life,” Parks said. “Drinking and driving is not good. It does cause deaths. It does cause heartbreaks and I would not want anyone to ever ever go through what my family has gone through,” she said.
“Chief Whitten came in and allowed me to go after this grant to secure an officer that’s dedicated just to DUI enforcement. That’s all this officer is dedicated to and will make sure our DUI numbers, hopefully the DUI arrest will come up a little bit, but the fatalities will go down,” Ambrose said. “So, it will help us get the impaired drivers off the roadway, before they have a collision or before there is a fatality. So, it’ll make our roadways safer for pedestrian traffic to walk up and down the roadway without having to worry about getting struck by a vehicle and things of that nature,” he said.
In addition, the Easley Police Department has received $97,000 for a prosecutor’s grant. The grant will enable the department to seek and hire an attorney whose primary focus will be prosecuting DUI cases.
“So when we have impaired drivers on the roadway, we get them off the roadway, arrest them, take them to jail and then the court process starts. So that creates a backlog. So we have prosecutors there. Now we have a prosecutor with this grant to prosecute those cases and get those cases on the forefront, so they don’t backlog our system any longer, and those drivers are actually prosecuted instead of given some kind of leeway or lower or lesser fine because it took too long to get to court,” Ambrose said.
One representative with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), said she had a case that took years to get through the system.
“I actually just stood with a family that their case was four years ago. So that backlog has had a very very very big impact of their family due to their loss, but also as an advocate it’s a very big impact on me because I was with this family within hours after that crash. We lost a mom and a dad and an eleven month old baby survived,” said Kimberly Cockrell, Victim’s Services Manager, with Mothers against Drunk Driving.
Cockrell also lost someone close to her many years ago, and is glad that the Easley Police Department is doing something to crackdown on DUI cases.
“One thing that I have said for the past 28 years, the same thing that I hear other families echo, that they never want another family to suffer the way that we have. What they’re doing in Easley, for the officer that could possibly pull someone off the roads before they take a life, that’s huge. That could actually save a life,” Cockrell said. “Having a designated DUI officer is amazing they can actually focus on just that, which is huge considering the number of DUI’s that we have that even result in fatalities,” she added.
“So my mission is to stop all of these fatalities. Target zero is really what we’re trying to get to within the city of Easley, if not in the entire state of South Carolina,” Ambrose said.
Ambrose said the department will hire internally for the DUI position, and will be looking externally, for the DUI prosecutor contractual employee.