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Authorities Try New Approach to Combat Houston’s High Rate of Drunk Driving

Besides looking for drunk drivers this Labor Day holiday, law enforcement will also go after establishments that illegally sell alcohol

Vehicular Crimes Chief Sear Teare with the Harris County District Attorney's office announces Labor Day "No Refusal" effort.
Vehicular Crimes Chief Sean Teare (fourth from the right) with the Harris County District Attorney’s office announces Labor Day “No Refusal” effort.

Sean Teare is the Chief of Vehicular Crimes for the Harris County District Attorney's Office. He doesn't mince words when he talks about the region's high number of drunk driving fatalities.

"I'm tired of standing over dead babies and other dead people in this county," said Teare during a press conference held Wednesday. "Every time my phone rings at three in the morning and I have to go out to one of these, I start to think about how I can stop it."

For years, Harris County has led the nation in drunk driving fatalities. To try to stem those high numbers, the D.A.'s office is ramping up enforcement for the Labor Day holiday.

For the final two weekends of August, Harris County will conduct a "No Refusal" effort. That means if someone refuses a breath test during a traffic stop, police can get an immediate warrant for a blood draw.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC), the Harris County Sheriff's Office, and the Precinct 1 Constable's Office are partnering in the effort.

Teare said they're also setting up two satellite locations so they can process DWI arrests more quickly. Prosecutors will be on-site along with magistrates who can issue warrants. There will also be nurses to take blood draws.

"It's going to get officers back onto the streets after they make their first, second, and third arrests much quicker," said Teare.

Besides going after drunk drivers, authorities will also look for establishments that are selling alcohol to minors or operating after-hours.

TABc Lieutenant Joe Cavazos said their Houston office has conducted 2,054 undercover operations in Harris County over the past year. As a result, 244 citations were issued for selling alcohol to minors.

"We will take whatever steps are necessary to hold those retailers accountable for those illegal sales," said Cavazos.

Harris County's Labor Day enforcement is being funded with a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation.