East Tennessee's top drunk driving enforcer said she is inspired by the 2019 hit-and-run death of Chattanooga policeman Nicholas Galinger, for which Janet Hinds was found guilty of vehicular homicide by intoxication in September.
Hamilton County Sheriff's Deputy Ashley Buckner was recognized for her efforts in keeping impaired drivers off the roads earlier this month at the annual Mothers Against Drunk Driving Night of Remembrance in Nashville.
Buckner was honored with two awards, the MADD Bronze Award for having more than 25 driving under the influence arrests in 2020, as well as East Tennessee Sheriff's Office Top DUI Enforcer Award for having the most DUI arrests for a law enforcement deputy in East Tennessee.
Last year, Buckner arrested 26 people for DUI, many of whom could have avoided being arrested if they had simply made transportation arrangements before drinking.
Buckner began her career as a patrol deputy with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office in 2017, following a stint at the Hamilton County Jail.
She said she's taken a keen interest in the effects of alcohol and drugs on the human body and how they can have lasting effects on the community.
"For me, it was more of an interest in the drug aspect of the DUI and what the drug does to a body," Buckner said, "whenever you take a specific drug, what happens within the body. That kind of led [my husband and me] down the DUI path and [when] Officer Galinger was hit in 2019, it hit more home."
Galinger, 38, was struck and killed by a vehicle while he was checking a flooded manhole on Hamill Road on Feb. 23, 2019. The driver, Hinds, left the scene, but turned herself in two days later. She was convicted Sept. 25 of vehicular homicide by intoxication. Her sentencing is scheduled for February.
"The biggest thing that has impacted so far during my career was Officer Galinger's crash," Buckner said. Both she and her husband, Chattanooga Police Department traffic investigator Jeff Buckner, responded to the call the night Galinger was killed.
Buckner said one thing she's learned is that driving under the influence can happen anywhere and at any time.
"I've actually had encounters with people who are under the influence at all hours of the day. Most often, it's going to be at night, on Friday and Saturday nights," she said, "but DUI is not limited to [those nights]. Those are the most often," said Buckner. "It spikes during the summer and Christmastime."
During the five-week period from Nov. 26, 2020, to Jan. 1, the Chattanooga Police Department reported 123 DUI arrests, while the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office reported 23.
Buckner said DUI doesn't just cover alcohol. Drivers are also impaired after taking drugs.
"Most people don't consider that as a DUI, they only think about alcohol, but drugs should also be considered. We have plenty of fatalities involving drugs as well," she said.
"I would want the biggest message to the community to be: Do not drink and drive and do not do drugs and get behind the wheel."
Contact La Shawn Pagán at email@example.com or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter @LaShawnPagan.