There were 1,131 alcohol-related automobile accidents and 10 fatalities in Allegheny County in 2012, according to statistics provided by Moon resident Cathy Tress. Statewide in 2012, there were 11,956 alcohol-related crashes and 428 fatalities.
As the Law Enforcement Liaison for the Pennsylvania DUI Association, Ms. Tress, 49, helps law officers work with the public to decrease these numbers. They are, Ms. Tress said, literally saving lives.
“It isn’t just about making arrests, it is about increasing awareness and education,” Ms. Tress said.
The Pennsylvania DUI Association is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to reduce the incidents of driving under the influence in the state through various means including, as Ms. Tress pointed out, education and awareness, but also through arrests and rehabilitation.
Ms. Tress works with law enforcement officials through various programming and services to accomplish this mission.
Her path to her current career started in 1996, when Ms. Tress started working for state Rep. John Pippy, a Moon Republican.
“He needed someone part time and my daughter was going to kindergarten, so it was the perfect fit,” she said. Ms. Tress handled Mr. Pippy’s outreach activities, including writing press releases and scheduling press conferences.
When a safety press officer position became available at PennDOT in 2000, Ms. Tress said that also came at the perfect time because she was looking for full-time work and hoping to expand her skills.
“It was challenging and I really like it — and that is how I got my start with the DUI association,” she said.
In her role with PennDOT, Ms. Tress continued working with outreach activities, the media and educational programming. One of those programs was the impaired driving program.
“This was a unique educational program and we partnered with several organizations for various activities to drive the message home,” Ms. Tress said.
One of those “unique programs” was a crashed car that they took to schools and other public places to show the effects of drunken driving.
Ms. Tress enjoyed the work, particularly working in the DUI programming, so when she was approached to serve as the law enforcement liaison for the PA DUI Association, she felt it was a good move.
“They had a liaison for the whole state, but they really needed one for the Western part of the state. When Stephen [Erni] approached me about it, I thought it sounded unique and challenging,” she said.
Mr. Erni is executive director for the association.
One of the most rewarding aspects of her role with the association is the Memorial Garden and the Moving Memorial the association created to remember victims of drunken drivers. The garden was created in Harrisburg at the association’s headquarters and the moving memorial travels to various cities throughout the state.
Ms. Tress had the memorial in Western Pennsylvania in the beginning of December. The association also hosts a memorial service in the beginning of December every year to mark the losses.
“It is very moving. We invite families and loved ones to participate and it really means a lot to them,” she said.
Ms. Tress works with law enforcement agencies in a variety of programming, including honoring those officers who make a difference in the number of arrests and outreach programming.
“The Top Gun program lets them know we know they are trying to keep drunk drivers off the road,” she said.
Mr. Erni said Ms. Tress is a real asset to the association.
“Cathy brings an unbelievable amount of energy, passion, compassion and knowledge to this role. She can go to bed every night knowing that she has done everything she can to keep our state safe,” he said.
Her knowledge of the media and working with both Penn DOT and law enforcement officials helps in this mission, he said.
“Her keen eye and great sense of the media help bring awareness to our mission,” he said.
The busiest impaired driving season is coming to a close — it is typically from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day — but that doesn’t mean Ms. Tress will be slowing down.
“We always have training, grant writing, all sorts of things going on,” she said.
That includes working with other agencies, including the health department, businesses and schools to increase awareness of the dangers of driving while impaired.
“It isn’t just driving after drinking, but driving after using drugs — both prescription and illegal. We really want people to understand what driving while impaired means,” she said.
It is, she said, a job that involves something different every day, and one that is always satisfying.
“You know that what you did possibly saved a life. What more could you want?” she said.
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.