Officials see uptick in OWIs as bars reopen, Covid restrictions are relaxed

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The driver whose car plunged off the Marquette Interchange in February has finally been cited with OWI. Deputies say it’s scary how many impaired drivers wind up on the freeway.

A lot of departments put out special OWI patrols. In Racine County they don’t do that, but your chances of getting caught might be even higher. Here’s why.

Racine County’s 164 deputies have a lot of space to cover from rural highways to the freeway.

“We have deputies who are assigned specifically to I-94 and they catch far too many impaired drivers than we care to count,” said Sergeant Michael Luell.

Deputies say one driver was stopped in Union Grove last weekend doing 57 in a 30 mph zone.

He can’t hold his leg off the ground for more than two seconds.

“Slurred speech, glassy eyes, deliberate movements, odor of intoxicants coming from his person,” said Sgt. Luell.

In Racine County, every single deputy on every single shift is looking to get impaired drivers off the road, and it’s not just alcohol. We’re talking illegal drugs and pills.

“Even prescription pills that you are prescribed and you can legally take, if you were impaired because you took them and you drive a motor vehicle, you’re breaking the law and you’re going to be arrested,” said Sgt. Luell.

The CDC says one in three traffic deaths in the US involves a drunk driver. Amazingly, Kelsey Brianna Gold didn’t die when her car tumbled off the Marquette Interchange onto the 794 ramp and then fell even lower. She was cited Friday, May 14, with OWI. As we approach Memorial Day, the sheriff's office cautions drivers.

“The sheriff's office is aware of the weather is getting nicer, Covid restrictions are reducing, businesses are opening up. But in having a good time, people also have to realize that they have to be smart and be safe,” said Sgt. Luell.

The Wisconsin DHS says the state’s numbers are even higher than the national average when it comes to alcohol use. In the last week, 55.1% nationwide said they had at least one alcoholic beverage compared with 64.8% in Wisconsin.

We also talked to the Southeast Wisconsin Multi-Jurisdictional Impaired Drivers Task Force. They have seen an uptick recently in OWIs and believe it’s related to more bars opening up and the weather warming up.

If you know someone who needs help, the Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline is a good place to start. Just call 211.

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