West Deer to oversee North Hills DUI Task Force
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Police in West Deer are taking the reins of the North Hills DUI Task Force, a coalition of officers from 11 departments that arrange check points and roving patrols to curb impaired driving in the region.
Northern Regional police, who cover Bradford Woods, Marshall, Pine and Richland, previously led the task force but its administrators decided to pass on the responsibility when it became stretched too thin. West Deer was the only department to show interest in taking over.
In addition to Northern Regional and West Deer, the task force consists of police departments from Etna, Indiana Township, Ross, Shaler and West View.
"We just felt that it was vital and needed to be done," said West Deer Chief Jonathan Lape.
The task force has received strong support among township officials, some of whom understand the devastation drunken drivers can cause first hand.
West Deer Manager Daniel Mator Jr., said that, as a professional, he believes DUI enforcement is critical in the North Hills and any other region. But his personal feelings about drunken drivers are more complex.
Mr. Mator's parents and unborn sibling were killed by a drunken driver on Coxcomb Hill in Plum in 1975. Mr. Mator, who was 2 years old at the time and was a passenger in the car, suffered a fractured skull and a broken collar bone.
He said witnesses and evidence suggest that his mother pushed him under the passenger side dash seconds before impact -- potentially saving his life in exchange for her own. The car was hit on the driver's side, crushing his father and killing his mother.
"My life was changed inexorably, changed forever, because someone wanted to have a good time," he said. "But I'm not the only one. There are many families with much worse stories than mine."
Last year, DUI accidents took 379 lives in Pennsylvania, down from 417 in 2010. Across the state more than 50,000 people were arrested for driving impaired in 2011.
Today Mr. Mator is far from a vigilante against drunken drivers, but he admits that it took years to overcome the frustration he felt about losing his parents in such a senseless way.
"It angered me for the longest time, growing up," he said. "It wasn't alcohol that bothered me. It wasn't drinking that bothered me. I'm against irresponsible drinking."
Mr. Mator, who was raised by his aunt and uncle and later moved in with his grandparents in high school, said the feeling of never really belonging to any family caused relationship issues.
"Although you can be loved like a child, loved like a sibling, to you, you will never really be that," he said.
The fact that his parents were robbed of their promising young lives at age 24 leaves Mr. Mator still wondering what could have been.
"I just don't want kids going through what I went through," he said. "It's tough. I tip my hat to the entire department."
Shaler's director of public safety and former police chief, Jeffrey Gally, said the task force has come a long way since it began in 1994 when departments provided their own funding to get the program off the ground.
This year the task force is funded with $65,000 in state grants.
Officers undergo a three-day standardized field sobriety test training, an eight-hour check point class, in addition to refresher courses and more specialized training to detect drug impairment.
"I've seen a tremendous improvement," the chief said. "We've definitely seen a decrease in impaired driving."
The group has held 158 checkpoints and roving patrols resulting in 710 arrests for driving under the influence in its 17-year history.
The first roving patrol of the year was conducted June 15 in Shaler, Etna, O'Hara, Indiana Township and West Deer, where 20 officers in two roving patrols arrested three DUI drivers.
Ten task force officers will patrol the North Hills region over the Independence Day weekend -- a holiday that led to six deaths at the hands of drunken drivers in the state last year.
A phlebotomist to take blood alcohol content samples also will be among the officers.
"With gas prices falling, people think this may be one of the most travelled Independence Day holidays of recent years," said Steve Cowan, a PennDOT spokesman.
"PennDOT is urging motorists to be safe, and please don't drink and drive or ride."
First Published June 28, 2012 5:44 am