Percentage of NC car crashes involving alcohol is on the rise

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Saturday, December 17, 2022
Percentage of NC car crashes involving alcohol is on the rise
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The death of a Cumberland County Sheriff's deputy by an impaired driver is sparking frustration across the community.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The death of a Cumberland County Sheriff's deputy by an impaired driver is sparking frustration across the community.

"Not again. That's the first thing I said not again," said Ollie Jeffers, a chapter liaison for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. "I'm very angry because another life has been lost because of the selfishness of an individual."

Deputies charged Nicholas Terlizzi, 24, with driving while impaired, felony death by vehicle, and felony hit and run, among a number of other traffic-related offenses.

Terlizzi ran a red light and crashed into 23-year-old deputy Oscar Yovani Bolanos-Anavisca Jr. who was investigating a robbery.

"It's hard to talk about this without getting upset," Cumberland County Sheriff Ennis Wright said on Friday. "I look at it like a senseless tragedy that could have been prevented when we have folks out here drinking and driving."

Last year alcohol was a factor in 22% of the traffic fatalities in North Carolina, according to NCDOT data. The percentage of overall crashes and crashes that caused injuries was higher last year than the four-year average.

Jeffers, who has worked to decrease this rate for 25 years, said these tragic incidents hurt even more when law enforcement takes the hit.

"It hits double. It's double because, you know, they're out there doing their job, to try to keep all of us safe, to protect all of us," she said.

It's a sentiment echoed today by Sheriff Wright.

"His life was taken away so quickly behind a senseless act of someone getting behind the wheel after they'd been drinking and decided to drive a vehicle," he said.

Bolanos-Anavisca's death comes almost a year after a Knightdale police officer was killed by a drunk driver in October 2021.

This October, Dedric Romero Privette was indicted with second-degree murder and DWI for the death of 23-year-old officer Ryan Hayworth.

Hayworth working a crash scene on I-540 when Privette crashed his car into Hayworth's car; killing him after being in the force for just three months.

"As 2022 comes to a close, we again face the tragic loss of another young deputy by a senseless and selfish act," said Jennifer Lichtneger, the MAAD NC state executive director.

Motor vehicle-related incidents are the leading cause of line-of-duty death for law enforcement officers. More than 450 officers died from a car between 2011-2020, according to federal data.

The number of overall traffic fatalities is on the rise. In 2021, 1,653 died in a car crash in North Carolina up 19% from 2019.

"This is something that's preventable, 100% preventable," Jeffers stressed. "Not many things in life, but this is preventable."

A US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study published this week found impaired driving is one of the leading causes of fatal crashes. More than half of people involved in serious or fatal accidents tested positive for drugs.

Earlier this year, another study, found 40% of people reported driving with alcohol and cannabis in their system.

Jeffers said she doesn't know what it will take to reduce these incidents. She's seen firsthand the number of people who re-offend.

"The awareness is there. You know, we have the awareness we have been lobbying for to have the interlock devices put on cars for first-time offenders because most first-time offenders get a limited driving permit, and they continue to still continue to drink and drive. But if that interlock device was placed on their car, then they could it wouldn't give them the opportunity to drink and drive it."

However, she doesn't see lawmakers passing a law like that anytime soon. So, in the meantime, she continues to try to spread awareness and remind people to not drink and drive.

"It could stop but it's gonna take everybody to work together to stop it," Jeffers said.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation began its "Booze It & Lose It" campaign earlier this week. The campaign increases law enforcement patrols searching for impaired drivers across the state until Jan. 2.

The "Booze It & Lose It" holiday effort is the largest impaired driving campaign run by the N.C. Governor's Highway Safety Program.

An estimated 432 people have been killed in North Carolina by impaired drivers. This year about 70 fewer people have died since 2021 but the 2022 death toll is still 7% higher than in 2019.

Last year the "Booze it & Lose it" campaign charged more than 1,900 drivers with a DWI.

The N.C. Governor's Highway Safety Program reminds drivers to not drive impaired, follow the speed limit, buckle their seatbelts and always find a safe ride home.