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Keep the Memorial Day celebration safe

Law enforcement officers to keep close watch on roads, lake

POSTED: June 4, 2008 5:02 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA /The Times

Senior Girl Scout Jenny Sheppard, 15, places American flags on graves Friday at the Alta Vista cemetery. Every year, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts place flags to honor men and women who served their country in the armed forces.

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Law enforcement officers promise to be out in force this holiday weekend as the summer recreational season gets under way despite rising gasoline prices that could keep more people off the roads.

The Georgia State Patrol predicts 19 traffic deaths on state roads during the Memorial Day weekend, which began at 6 p.m. Friday and ends at midnight Monday.

Last year, 10 people died in traffic accidents during the 78-hour holiday period, the lowest number since 1979. AAA expects 1 million Georgians to take to the road.

Department of Public Safety Col. Bill Hitchens said that while last year tied the record for lowest number of Memorial Day holiday deaths since the state began recording statistics in 1969, "we must not forget that one of the highest number of deaths in recent years occurred in 2005, when 32 people lost their lives in fatal traffic crashes."

Hitchens said state troopers will be on "full patrol" this holiday weekend "in an effort to keep the number of crashes, injuries and deaths as low as possible."

Gainesville Police Sgt. Dean Staples said officers are in the midst of "Operation Click It Or Ticket," a statewide, multi-agency effort that focuses not only on seat belt use, but also speeders, reckless drivers and impaired drivers.

"My guys will be doing concentrated patrols in areas where we know there have been violations occurring," Staples said.

Hall County Sheriff's Sgt. Kiley Sargent said motorists can expect to see safety checkpoints set up on county roads throughout the holiday weekend as deputies watch for DUI suspects.

"We're not going to reveal the locations," he said. "We want the public to be on their toes. If they take a chance getting out on the roads while intoxicated, they're rolling the dice, because there will be zero tolerance for driving under the influence."

Sheriff's deputies will also be patrolling Lake Lanier by boat and personal watercraft, looking for safety violations, life jacket requirements and impaired boating.

"The last thing we want is another boat crash or drowning," Sargent said.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources' marine patrol also steps into high gear with increased patrols on Lake Lanier during a traditionally busy boating holiday. Last year in Georgia, there were 142 boating accidents and 17 boating fatalities, with DNR rangers making 189 boating under the influence arrests, DNR spokeswoman Melissa Cummings said.

"Alcohol, mixed with boating activities, creates dangerous conditions that can lead to tragedy," Cummings said.

DNR Chief of Law Enforcement Col. Terry West said boaters need to be aware they will be sharing the waters with thousands of others.

"We want to remind everyone that public waters will be very crowded, and in an effort to keep everyone safe, we encourage boat operators to stay sober and alert and know Georgia's boating laws before heading out on the water," West said.



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