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CHARLESTON, Tenn. - The next time there is a fatal traffic accident linked to drunken driving in Tennessee, the investigative eyes of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the Tennessee Highway Patrol will be watching.

The ABC, which issues liquor licenses in Tennessee, now has direct access to the THP's computer database for accidents related to drunken driving. That means the commission will know sooner about any distributor who may be serving underage drinkers or visibly intoxicated ones, officials said Tuesday.

THP Director Col. Tracy Trott and ABC Executive Director Danielle Elks joined others at the Charleston Fire Department on Tuesday to announce the partnership put together by state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland.

"You've heard the expression 'where there's smoke, there's fire.' Well, where there's smoke, the ABC special agents can now look for the fire," Watson said at the news conference.

"This partnership will allow ABC special agents to more quickly gather information regarding alcohol-related traffic accidents," he said. "This information could lead to further investigations into possible violations of state liquor laws."

Defense attorney Jim Logan, a Democrat, said he and Watson, a Republican and veteran law enforcement officer, agreed quickly about the need to spread the responsibility beyond the driver.

"I am not attacking any server or any one place where alcohol is dispensed. Our law provides for that. But we know in Bradley County we have lost a lot of valuable lives over the years involving intoxicated drivers," Logan said.

People who serve alcohol are taking their responsibilities more seriously now, he said.

The partnership needed no legislation and has no cost, Logan said.

The news conference included state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville; McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy; representatives from the Cleveland, Charleston and Benton police departments; and Ralph Creel, a former Bradley County Sheriff's Office official.

"Eric was the one who started this, and we appreciate it," Bell said.

The agencies came together to work toward safer highways with no regard to protecting administrative turf, Bell said.

Trott said the partnership is another step toward tougher drunken-driving enforcement statewide.

"Despite these efforts, people will drink and drive," Elks with the ABC said.

But the commission in the past has not received drunken-driving accident information in a timely manner, she said.

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