VPD grant to reduce alcohol crimes
visalia – Alcohol-related crimes are a major concern in Tulare County, where DUI fatalities outrank its percent of statewide population and where excessive drinking is higher than both the state and national average.
In 2013, the most recent numbers available, Tulare County ranked 11 out of 58 counties with 35 fatalities and injuries by those drinking and driving under the age of 21. From 2009-2013, 148 people were killed by drunk driving in Tulare County. That represents 2.5% of all DUI fatalities in a county that only represents 1% of the State’s population.
Tulare County has a higher percentage of excessive drinking (19%) than the state (17%) and national (10%) averages. It also has a higher percentage of alcohol-impaired deaths (39%) than the state (31%) and national (14%) average.
Just take a recent example of Johnny Mendoza. The 27-year-old Visalian was sentenced to 15 years in state prison for DUI manslaughter. On May 26, Mendoza pleaded no contest, which is considered the same as a guilty plea for sentencing, to one count of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with a special allegation of causing injury to more than one person and one count of DUI causing injury with a prior DUI conviction, with three special allegations of causing great bodily injury.
At approximately 3:30 p.m. on June 12, 2016, the 42-year-old female victim was driving westbound on Highway 65 near Spruce Avenue with five passengers. The victim and her 13-yearold daughter were talking and laughing when they saw Mendoza heading towards them in their lane of travel. The victim attempted to swerve her van out of the way but Mendoza crashed into them head on. The driver died shortly after the collision, her 13-year-old daughter sustained a broken arm, her 6-year-old son suffered a severe head laceration, and a 22-year-old passenger sustained a broken neck. The victim’s 11-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter were also injured. The investigation revealed that Mendoza’s BAC was .09% while also testing positive for methamphetamine.
Mendoza was on probation for a DUI conviction from 2014 in which his BAC was .23% when this crash occurred. He also failed to attend mandated DUI classes and had not installed an ignition interlock device that had been instructed by the Court.
As one of the largest law enforcement agencies in Tulare County, the Visalia Police Department often plays a major role in DUI enforcement for residents from every community in the County. It’s one of the reasons the that the department has been awarded a $77,000 grant from the California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to battle alcohol related crime.
“This grant is important to Visalia as it will help us to be more proactive in increasing protection for youth and addressing problem locations that have contributed to an increase in crime,” Police Chief Jason Salazar said.
The grant is one of 52 awarded in California to local law enforcement agencies through ABC’s Grant Assistance Program (GAP). The grants strengthen local law enforcement efforts by combining the efforts of local police officers and ABC agents. ABC agents have expertise in alcoholic beverage laws and can help communities reduce alcohol-related problems.
“The program improves the quality of life in neighborhoods,” said Acting ABC Director Ramona Prieto. “We’ve seen a real difference in the communities where the grant program resources have been invested.”
The GAP Program was created in 1995 to strengthen partnerships between ABC and local law enforcement agencies. The program is designed to put bad operators out of business, keep alcohol away from minors and bring penalties such as fines, suspensions or revocations against businesses that violate the law. The funds will be used to reduce the number of alcoholic beverage sales to minors, obviously intoxicated patrons, illegal solicitations of alcohol, and other criminal activities such as the sale and possession of illegal drugs.