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Fatal crashes focus attention on the deadly consequences of drunk driving

Two fatal wrecks in Hidalgo County during the past two weeks focused attention on the deadly consequences of drunken driving.

On Dec. 9, a motorist struck and killed a Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher on her way to work. Just seven days later, another motorist hit an ambulance head-on — killing a patient and an emergency medical technician.

20181217 PenitasVigilInvestigators believe both motorists were intoxicated.

“It’s been a rough two weeks,” said Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez, reflecting widespread sentiment in the law enforcement community and among first responders.

The Dec. 9 crash killed 29-year-old Communications Officer Sandra Coronado, who dispatched emergency calls for the sheriff’s office. She died on her way to work.

“We are devastated with the loss of another innocent life because of the reckless and careless decision of an individual to drive while intoxicated,” according to a statement released by the sheriff’s office.

Seven days later, a Ford F-250 struck an ambulance head-on.

The crash killed 67-year-old Delia Cortines, a patient in the ambulance, and 32-year-old Felipe Huerta, an emergency medical technician. Another emergency medical technician, Andrea Rodriguez, suffered serious injuries.

While both wrecks made headlines, prosecutors and Mothers Against Drunk Driving believe they’re symptoms of a bigger problem: a culture where drunken driving is normal.

“We have these cases and we have community outrage and everybody’s upset at the drunk drivers, but we need to be upset at the drunk drivers all the time,” said Ana Verley, a victim services specialist for MADD. “Not just when somebody dies.”

Many people drink alcohol and drive home without thinking twice, Verley said, adding that anyone who plans to drink should stay home or arrange a ride.

“People don’t think it’s going to happen to them,” Verley said. “People think they can handle it because they’ve done it lots of times.”

Officers book thousands of people at the Hidalgo County jail every year on drunken driving charges.

From 2010 to 2015, drunken driving charges accounted for 22,500 bookings at the Hidalgo County jail, according to sheriff’s office records.

“It’s not just here,” Rodriguez said, adding that drunken driving is a major problem nationwide. “It’s bad everywhere.”

Driving while intoxicated is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 180 days in jail and a fine not to exceed $2,000. The punishment escalates with each subsequent arrest.

Officers across the Rio Grande Valley will target drunken drivers over the next few weeks, thanks to grants from the Texas Department of Transportation. State troopers will also target drunken drivers from Dec. 23 to Dec. 26 and on the New Year’s Eve holiday.

“And we can’t stress enough,” Verley said: “That if you’re going to be drinking, you shouldn’t be driving.”

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