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Wrong-way driving spurs Suffolk anti-DWI move

The scene where police arrested a wrong-way driver

The scene where police arrested a wrong-way driver on Sunrise Highway, west of the William Floyd Parkway, in Shirley. (Dec. 9, 2010) Credit: David Rubin

Following a spate of wrong-way incidents by suspected drunken drivers on Long Island, Suffolk officials announced Tuesday that police helicopter crews and seven more officers on the ground will boost DWI enforcement - with an emphasis on wrong-way drivers - through the holidays.

The county has also been placing temporary electronic signs along major roads warning motorists not to drink and drive, County Executive Steve Levy said. The signs do not specifically address the wrong-way driving incidents.

The county also has asked local radio stations to air public service announcements titled "Wrong-Way Holiday" to reinforce the anti-DWI theme.

"Safety on our streets is paramount," Levy said. "We are reminding members of the public that law enforcement is out in force to prevent anyone else from being involved in another horrific wrong-way or DWI-related crash."

The campaign will include DWI checkpoints at high-traffic intersections, highway ramps and shopping centers.

The police department's regular anti-DWI unit has nine officers and a sergeant. Another sergeant and six highway patrol officers will be shifted temporarily from precinct patrol work. Levy said their DWI work might add some overtime costs but "it's not a tremendous amount, and it's certainly worth every penny."

Since starting more DWI patrols during Thanksgiving week, police have made 47 DWI arrests and issued 51 summonses, Levy told reporters in an aviation unit hangar at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma.

Appearing with him, Denna Cohen, Long Island chapter president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said she hoped the added emphasis would help reduce accidents. "The more law enforcement, the more police on our roads, the safer we are going to be," she said. She said the helicopters would help spot potential drunken drivers more quickly.

"They will be our extra eyes in the sky," Levy said of the helicopters. They have occasionally done some highway surveillance, but they have not worked with the anti-DWI team previously and this will be a much more substantial effort by the aviation bureau, he said.

Six motorists have been arrested since Nov. 15 after driving the wrong way on a major Long Island road, including two in Suffolk late last week.

"We hope that the message will get out today that this holiday season, if you're drinking, don't get behind the wheel," Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said.

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