Reducing drunken drivers

Reducing drunken drivers

December 9th, 2009 in Georgia

RINGGOLD, Ga. -- Catoosa County is one of seven counties in Georgia listed in the "high burden" category for alcohol-related crashes and underage drinking, according to a report from the state Department of Human Resources.

Catoosa County Family Collaborative Coordinator Phil Ledbetter discussed the dubious distinction at a recent County Commission meeting as he told commissioners about a grant application.

"It's not a compliment to us to be on this list, but if we do have some issues there, it's good to be able to apply for this grant," Mr. Ledbetter said.

The Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration would look for causes and solutions.

Based on juvenile court figures supplied by Mr. Ledbetter, the county recorded 40 alcohol violations involving offenders younger than 18 from July 2008 to through June 2009.

"Do we have a problem?" Commissioner Ken Marks asked after the meeting. "Yes, or we wouldn't be on the list."

The other six counties on the list are from across the state with few apparent similarities.

The ranking, based in part on the state Department of Human Resources' Social Indicator Study, puts Catoosa in the highest category for alcohol-related crashes among drivers ages 18 to 21 and 145th out of 159 counties in juvenile liquor and drug arrests.

Staff file photo: Georgia law enforcement officers conduct a sobriety checkpoint.

Staff file photo: Georgia law enforcement officers conduct a...

The same social indicator data, however, indicate that Catoosa has Northwest Georgia's lowest overall "risk score" when all 29 study categories -- including child abuse, methamphetamine and sexually transmitted diseases -- are added up.

Catoosa's alcohol-related stats for adults are decidedly normal, the data show.

As to why the juvenile rates are high, officials point to everything from enabling adults to proximity to Chattanooga as potential reasons. Mr. Marks and Commissioner Jim Cutler both suggested thorough law enforcement might be part of the reason for the high numbers.

"We don't have any bigger problem than Cobb County or anybody else," Mr. Cutler said.

Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers said being on the list was a bit of a surprise, but added that he has seen an increase in underage drinking offenses.

When the county used to catch underage drinkers, deputies and officers would take the teens to the station and call parents without any formal charges. Now the county must press charges to get the teens and their parents to take the violations seriously, Sheriff Summers said.

"The mothers and fathers are not dealing with the problems," he explained. "They're either not able to or not willing to."

Mr. Ledbetter said he hopes the county receives the grant before any more young lives are lost.

Even without the grant, Sheriff Summers said the listing has opened some eyes.

"It calls attention and that's normally the biggest thing," he said. "If there is a problem, then someone needs to call attention to it so we can address it."