VIRGINIA BEACH — Since losing her only daughter, Robin, to a drunk driver who had two more DUIs under his belt in 1997, Kaye Walsh and her husband Bob made it their mission to ensure people who make the choice to drink to and drive, don’t have the opportunity to do it again.
For the 15-year span the couple served volunteering as coordinators for the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Southside chapter, Walsh said they annually awarded officers at the Virginia Beach Police Department for what she equates to as saving more lives than any other law enforcement agency in the region.
“Virginia Beach has always been at the top of their game but each year they made more and more, and more arrests — the numbers are huge,” she said. “They’re getting a lot of [impaired drivers] off the road before they kill or injure someone and those numbers reflect that.”
This year’s numbers were no different with Virginia Beach Master Police Officer Eriald Kera recently receiving the honor at the organization’s Southeastern Virginia Award Dinner for arresting 120 “impaired drivers” in 2018 — Kera also received the award at last year’s ceremony.
Police Sgt. Christopher Brandt, who heads the department’s Traffic Safety Unit, said with specialized training, the unit’s assigned officers’ unique and primary mission is to “aggressively track down and apprehend all impaired drivers throughout the city as well as enforce all traffic laws along with it.”
Officers like Kera spend three years on the unit and then will carry their specialized training to either the Special Operation Division’s Fatal Crash Team or like five-time consecutive Mothers Against Drunk Driving award winner, Master Police Officer Nathaniel Worthing, back to the precinct where they are both answering calls for service and arresting suspected impaired drivers.
Walsh said numbers like those in 2017 when top officers in Chesapeake, Norfolk, and Suffolk arrested less impaired drivers combined compared to Kera’s and Worthing’s 198 is directly attributed to Virginia Beach specializing in DUI enforcement.
“They’re an elite bunch of officers — they are heroes,” she said.
An Impaired Driving Grant from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and a seatbelt grant pays traffic safety officers’ overtime, allowing them to not only seek out impaired drivers but also give up to 30 lectures a year educating organizations in the community on traffic laws and consequences as it relates to drinking and driving, Brandt said.
When he separates himself and looks at the bigger picture, Brandt said he can see the difference his officers are making with nearly 2,500 impaired drivers arrested per year in Virginia Beach, but the reality is people who make the choice to drive after drinking remains a leading cause of death on roadways.
“The chance of being in an alcohol-related crash is one in six over the course of a lifetime,” according to the DMV’s website. “These deaths contribute to a cost of $429 million per year in the Commonwealth.”
Rewarding and supporting the officers who seek out as many impaired drivers as possible is one way Mothers Against Drunk Driving hope to save victims, but Walsh also said drivers who are arrested should be thankful.
“People need to realize that driving impaired and getting caught is not a mistake, but a choice they made and they should thank the law enforcement professional who caught them before they killed or injured someone, including killing or injuring themselves,” she said. “They need to make smart choices and stop blaming law enforcement for ‘ruining their life’ by getting caught.”