TAMPA BAY — Law enforcement in the Tampa Bay area are reminding people not to drink and drive this St. Patrick's Day, with some agencies even stepping up patrols. It comes after several recent crashes and incidents involving officers and impaired people behind the wheel.
On Tuesday night, Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) reported a driver collided with the back of a New Port Richey patrol car. The officer and other driver didn’t have serious injuries. During the investigation, FHP determined the driver of the suspect car was impaired at the time of the collision.
“When you think of police work, you think of a police officer in danger of being shot or assaulted by somebody on a call. You don’t necessarily think of them being at high-risk for being killed in a crash,” said Rob Shaw with the Clearwater Police Department. “But these last three months have proven the roads can be very, very deadly places for law enforcement officers, unfortunately.”
A Clearwater Police officer had a close call recently, too. Clearwater Police arrested three drivers last week on DUI and other charges after a series of crashes on the Courtney Campbell Causeway that started with a wrong-way driver.
Callers reported a car going the wrong way, and after one crash, police say the driver and the passenger of the wrong-way car switched positions and the car continued the correct way. Police say both drivers were impaired.
A Clearwater Police officer then responded to one of the related crashes and was helping a driver when police say another drunk driver hit the officer’s patrol car. The officer wasn’t near the car or hurt.
“He would have been sitting in his car 90 seconds later without a seat belt probably because when you’re in and out of your car and you’re sitting there doing your thing, you’re not driving, you don’t probably put your seat belt on,” said Shaw. “That could have had really tragic and horrific ramifications for him.”
As a part of spring break, Clearwater PD says they’ve stepped up their presence in certain areas looking for impaired drivers.
The Tampa Bay law enforcement community is also still trying to cope with the deaths of some of their own.
Last week, Tampa Police officer Jesse Madsen was killed after a crash involving a wrong-way driver. Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said during a press conference last week initial findings show that driver was intoxicated at the time of the crash.
In February, Pinellas County deputy Michael Magli was killed while trying to stop a drunk driver from crashing into other cars on East Lake Road in Tarpon Springs.
“We understand education matters, we understand enforcement matters, but personal responsibility is where the rubber meets the road,” said Danny Alvarez with the Tampa Police Benevolent Association. “It’s where the key goes into the slot, and it’s where you have to stop and say, ‘I’m not going to do this.”
Officials say you need to call an Uber or have a designated driver instead so everyone can get home safely.
ABC Action News reached out to FHP for data on crashes involving law enforcement and impaired drivers so far this year. We will bring you that information as soon as it’s available.
“When you’ve got Lyft, Uber, taxis, friends, anything that can get you home besides you being behind the wheel, there’s no excuse,” said Alvarez.