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Sobering stats

Why have drunken-driving arrests jumped in Cambridge, but plunged in Somerville? In both places, local police have simple answers.

By Ric Kahn
Globe Staff / February 15, 2009
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Last Nov. 1 was a busy day in a busy year for Cambridge police officers on alert for drunk drivers.

As Halloween night faded into Saturday morning, Cambridge cops clamped down on adults they said had engaged in dark, unruly behavior.

Darlene Goggin, a 41-year-old cashier from Framingham, was found sitting in a gray Honda that had its headlights on but was not moving. Her eyes were red and her breath reeked of alcohol, police say. When asked how many drinks she'd consumed, Goggin allegedly replied in slow, slurred words: "Too many, way too many. I'm way over the limit."

As she exited the car just after 7 a.m., she nearly fell to the ground, according to the incident report. She was just as reckless behind the wheel, according to police, who say they found a piece of molding from another car lodged into her side door. Officers say they traced it to a 2001 Jeep, and that Goggin had struck it earlier that morning. Goggin was convicted of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and was sentenced to lose her driver's license for 45 days, court records show.

Also charged that day with drunken driving was Kevin Mahony of Cambridge, now 49. Police say they observed Mahony stopped at an intersection for more than 25 seconds. It was around 2:30 a.m., and the traffic light was green. Mahony flunked a field sobriety test, police say. He, too, was ordered to give up his license for 45 days, and his case was continued without a finding of guilt or innocence, court records show.

Third up that manic morn was Jose Solis, a 34-year-old from Rhode Island. Police say Solis had been spotted driving erratically hither and yon, from Quincy to Somerville to Cambridge. Cops arrested him at around 2:15 a.m. after they say he couldn't pass a field sobriety test. He was hit with a 45-day suspension, as well, according to court documents; his case was also continued without a finding.

The trio of early morning incidents were part of a string of OUI arrests racked up in Cambridge last year by law enforcement efforts that included local officers and state troopers. The 2008 numbers represent a 52 percent jump from 2007. By contrast, OUI arrests were up 4.6 percent statewide during the same period, according to statistics from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles. The Cambridge spike also overshadowed OUI arrest hikes last year of 13.5 percent in Brookline and 9.7 percent in Boston.

Meanwhile, just over the border, OUI collars in Somerville bucked the trend, plummeting 15.8 percent, from 57 arrests in 2007 to 48 last year.

In Cambridge, Lieutenant Jack Albert, head of the Police Department's traffic enforcement unit, attributed the arrest surge not to a swell of impaired motorists but to more finely trained police officers, a streamlined system of reporting OUIs to the state, and renewed vigilance in the Commonwealth against drunk drivers.

Over the course of last year, State Police troopers set up four late-night sobriety checkpoints on Cambridge's Memorial Drive. The federally funded roadblocks netted a total of 40 arrests, State Police say, which accounted for 75 percent of Cambridge's gain in OUI pinches, which rose from 102 in 2007 to 155.

Though the arrest figures stemming from State Police checkpoints in Cambridge during 2007 were not immediately available, there were only two such checkpoints there that year.

Overall, the number of State Police sobriety checkpoints across the Commonwealth has lately leaped, rising from 14 in 2005 to 75 last year, according to the agency, a crackdown that coincided with a stiffening of legal penalties for drunk drivers.

Episodes of OUI-related crashes that State Police responded to, meanwhile, fell from 709 in 2006 to 595 last year, the agency says.

"Both numbers are moving in the right direction," says David Procopio, a spokesman for the State Police.

On the question of whether the boost in OUI arrests is driven by a bigger horde of in-the-bag automobilists or more precise policing, it's not just the lawmen who credit the cops.

"Better enforcement" is the take of David DeIuliis, spokesman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Massachusetts.

In Somerville, police say their resolve to remove drunk drivers from the roads has not waned. Rather, Deputy Chief Paul Upton attributes the drop in OUI arrests there to the end of good times. Actually, the end of the Good Time Emporium, a mammoth, 80,000-square-foot sports bar and amusement parlor that closed in June to make way for an Ikea.

"There's far fewer people likely to get themselves into trouble," says Upton.

As one Jamaica Plainer blogged about the shuttering of Good Time: "Where am I going to get really drunk, win two thousand tickets on a trivia machine, and hit in a batting cage now?"

Good Time's owner could not be reached for comment.

Records in the Good Time file at Somerville City Hall show that, over the years, some motorists caught driving drunk told authorities they'd been imbibing at the bar on Assembly Square Drive.

On Feb. 21, 2003, Charles Eshbach Jr., then a 39-year-old bartender with a New Hampshire address, court records show, was found by Malden police with glassy eyes and uneven speech after a motor vehicle accident. When asked to recite the alphabet, police say, he missed q, r, s and t.

Eshbach was charged with OUI, convicted, and was penalized with a loss of his license for two years. He'd had his last drink that day, records show, at Good Time.

Police found Ronney Slade, 54 years old and living in Waltham at the time, driving on a rear flat tire in Watertown after midnight on Sept. 11, 2004, records show. He told police he'd blown it after hitting a curb, court documents say. What caused him to drive so waywardly, police say, was booze. On the field-sobriety alphabet test, police say, Slade reached the letter o, but could not continue. He was eventually convicted of drunken driving, with a loss of license for 45 days.

But before that, Slade allegedly made a series of statements to police. One was, "I am not a criminal. I just made a mistake." Another: that he was out celebrating, and had downed three rum and colas at Good Time. And a third: "You guys caught me red-handed."

Matt Carroll of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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