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Encinitas deputy honored as top DUI enforcer

ENCINITAS — You’d be surprised what you don’t know about drunk driving.
Deputy Dave Toner has seen it all.
Last year he made 201 DUI arrests, earning the distinction as Top DUI Enforcement Officer by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, Police Officer of the Year by the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce and DUI Officer of the Year by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD. Last month he was also honored by MADD at a luncheon with their 2010 Century Award for making 100 or more arrests for suspicion of driving under the influence in 2009.
The fatalities Toner has seen weren’t on the freeway, but on surface streets including Encinitas Boulevard west of Rancho Santa Fe Road and the intersection of Birmingham and Carol View Drive.
“Most DWI arrests occur between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. on the South Coast Highway 101,” he said. “Most people don’t realize they are under the influence. They think they are fine.”
Telltale signs of driving while intoxicated are speeding, weaving and stopping beyond the limit line at a stop sign.
“As you talk with an intoxicated driver you can usually smell alcohol,” he said. “You look at their eyes which are red and bloodshot, and their hand movement as they try to get their license from their wallet. It is usually slow and deliberate.”
If Toner recognizes signs of intoxication, he escorts the driver to his car where he administers field coordination tests. These can include walking straight, standing on one leg without swaying or touching the nose with an index finger.
The legal blood alcohol content in California is .08. According to Toner, a person’s size is not necessarily a predictor of their ability to handle their liquor.
“I have seen a big, burly guy at .12 falling over stupid and an itty bitty gal at .20 carrying on a conversation,” he said.
Suspected drunk drivers are taken to the Encinitas Sheriff’s Station where they can ask for a breath or blood test. It takes about 90 minutes to fill out the paperwork, after which the driver is transferred to the Vista jail where they are required to post bail, usually $2,500, to be released. Drunk drivers with a youngster in the car are subject to a felony charge of child endangerment.
“Usually it’s a patrol car who takes them,” Toner said. “It’s a total team effort. They are probably out of jail by the time I finish the report, but at least I know they didn’t kill anybody that night.”
Toner is one of 14 officers in the traffic division, which is responsible for collisions and drunk driving arrests. There are two units in Encinitas every night of the week except Wednesday when there are four, and one in Solana Beach.
He works four days a week on a 10-hour shift from 4:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. An Office of Traffic Safety Grant allows him to work additional shifts, which contributed to last year’s record DUI arrests.
Today, 30 to 40 percent of drunk drivers are women.
“One night I arrested a woman driving a Jeep Cherokee who had a female passenger who was later picked up by someone,” he said. “Two weeks later, I arrested her. She had a passenger who was the woman I arrested earlier.”
Toner adds that if you are intoxicated you should call a cab or friend who is sober. Many times the person called to pick up a drunk driver is intoxicated himself.
Mark O’Connor, traffic sergeant with the Encinitas Sheriff’s Department, reports that DUI arrests are on the rise.
“It’s probably due to the volume of people and cars — and the economy,” he said. “On St. Patrick’s Day, there were seven or eight. There were no crashes. That’s the whole point.”
O’Connor added that the drunk driver is seldom the one who gets seriously injured.
“They are the rubber band men because they are loose,” he said. “The passenger sees what’s happening, gets tense and usually sustains the greatest injury.”