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Police forces to crack down on drinking over holiday weekend

Memorial Day means a three-day holiday for some and the start of summer fun. It's a chance for a few beers at a barbecue -- and busts by law enforcement officers looking for those who have had too much to drink.

Sgt. Jay Struble, supervisor of the Merced Police Department's Traffic Division, said The Avoid the 11 DUI Taskforce is hosting a sobriety checkpoint Saturday evening in central Merced targeting drivers who drink and drive. The checkpoint runs between 8 p.m. and about 2 a.m.

The weekend traditionally sees higher levels of drinking drivers and related accidents.

Police also will have additional enforcement operations in Gustine, Atwater, Dos Palos and UC Merced. Extra California Highway Patrol officers will be looking for drunken drivers and seat belt violators.

Struble said he has arrested a number of tipsy motorists over Memorial Day in his 14-year career. He said people have a few beers during a barbecue and don't realize they've had too much to drink.

The Avoid the 11 DUI Task Force is composed of 11 local law enforcement agencies throughout Merced County that are allied together to combat drunken driving in the six cities and unincorporated areas.

Struble urged those planning on drinking alcoholic beverages and driving to designate a driver who remains sober.

The CHP has a Maximum Enforcement Period between Friday at 6 p.m. and Monday at midnight. Extra officers on overtime pay are looking for those not wearing safety belts as well as tipsy drivers.

"No matter how long or short the road trip, always wear a seat belt," said Merced Area CHP Capt. Steve Badilla. "It can make a difference between life and death in a crash."

The program is called the Avoid program because motorists can avoid being arrested by not drinking and driving.

Funding for this program was provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, according to Officer Jeff Christensen of the Merced Police Department.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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