The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 6, 2012

Area leads state in highway safety programs

By Sarah Plummer
Register-Herald Reporter

— The Southern Regional Highway Safety Program, and specifically Raleigh County, is leading the state in DUI arrests, driving while suspended arrests and occupant protection.

In addition, two of the top five officers with the most DUI arrests in the state are from Raleigh County agencies.

Lt. Paul Blume, Southern Regional Highway Safety Program Coordinator, said the seven county region’s arrests averaged one per every 6.9 hours of patrol whereas the state average was one for every 12.5 hours of patrol.

Driving those numbers were Beckley Police Sgt. Frankie Shelton, ranked second in the state for DUI arrests; Raleigh County Sheriff’s Cpl. Jason Redden, third in the state; and Raleigh County Sheriff’s Lt. Randy Burgess, 10th in the state, confirmed State Highway Safety Director Bob Tipton.

Tipton added that the Beckley Police Department ranks fifth in the state for the most DUI arrests and the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office ranks sixth.

Between January and October 2012, Beckley Police have made 306 DUI arrests and Raleigh County has made 247.

“The Highway Safety Program offers support to police agencies by providing overtime for police officers to go out and specifically work to get drunk drivers off the road,” said Tipton. “These police officers have a full plate. Even if they personally prioritize drunk driving, there are so many calls they end up spending their time going from call to call. Funding through this program allows these guys who are good workers to get out there and make a difference.”

Blume explained that the southern regional program is comprised of seven counties and 36 departments.

“We attribute our high numbers to our outstanding officers and departments that have bought in to what we are trying to do as a highway safety office. We are taking DUI seriously and have dedicated officers working to take drunks off the road. These are numbers we are proud of,” Blume said.

Tipton added that last year a total of 9,477 drunk drivers were arrested across the state.

Currently he anticipates those numbers to be around 10,000 for 2012.

He also noted that West Virginia is chronically one of the top 10 states with the highest alcohol-related fatalities in the nation, in part due to West Virginia’s rural and dangerous roads.

The last several years have seen a downward trending in alcohol-related fatalities, from 378 in 2008 to 315 in 2010, Tipton said.

— E-mail: splummer@register-herald.com