HILO — “The Labor Day weekend, for law enforcement, is one of the most dangerous weekends on the roadways.”
That’s the assessment of Sgt. Robert Pauole, who heads the Hawaii Police Department’s Traffic Enforcement Division.
“Locally, it’s your typical three-day weekend. It’s still considered summertime. People go to the beaches; they want to relax. They end up drinking and driving,” he said.
Police are stepping up DUI patrols and checkpoints this weekend, with the help of a federal “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” grant.
“We do what we can to increase enforcement during this period, but it’s a long weekend, people like to get out there, they end up partying and a lot of times, we have additional calls of service on the weekend that take away from the patrol officers’ time from conducting speed enforcement and drunken driving enforcement,” Pauole said. “It’s unfortunate that sometimes accidents occur during the times that patrol officers are trying to diffuse other situations, such as domestics, people drinking down at the beach, big parties.”
Pauole noted that motorcyclists ride around the island in large groups on Labor Day weekend and cautioned drivers to be careful and look for them.
“Just having a group of motorcycles ride together, they become vulnerable to the other motorists out there,” he said.
There was one vehicular fatality last Labor Day weekend, as 33-year-old John Alvarez was killed when his pickup truck ran off Ohia Avenue in Eden Roc Estates and struck a tree in the early morning hours. Alvarez wasn’t wearing a seat belt and both speed and alcohol were factors. His death wasn’t an official traffic fatality because it occurred on a private road.
“We’re just following a state and national standard accounting system,” Pauole said. “It’s not that we don’t count them as in we don’t care about them. Of course, we care about them, and give them an equal amount of investigation. … The Traffic Services office counts every fatality (but) we count (deaths not on public roadways) in a separate category.”
There were no traffic fatalities over the 2010 Labor Day weekend, but 2009’s three-day holiday weekend was a deadly one on Big Island roads, as five people lost their lives in three separate collisions.
Police were unable to provide DUI statistics for the Labor Day weekends, but the week leading up to Labor Day, there were 23 DUI arrests, a little more than three fewer than the weekly average of 26.1 for 2009 leading up to that week. In 2010, there were 31 DUI arrests for the week leading up to Labor Day, a little higher than the previous weekly average of 29.8. Last year there were 40 arrests during the week leading up to Labor Day, significantly higher than the 28.1 previous weekly average for 2011.
Police have averaged 26.8 DUI arrests per week this year. The weeks run from Mondays through Sundays. Pauole said he personally reads every DUI report.
“With some of them, the alcohol levels are really high,” he said. “If it’s determined that they had come from a bar, or if you have someone who’s under 21 and we determine that they bought liquor from a specific establishment, or were at a bar, I take it upon myself to go to the (county) Liquor Commission, and they conduct an investigation.”
He said the department has no problem with adults enjoying themselves responsibly.
“We want them to stay at home. If they’re going to go to the bar, have somebody come and pick them up, take a taxi, anything but drive,” he said.