With the lighting of a candle, there was a moment of silence in memory and recognition of victims of drunk driving here in St. Mary Parish. The annual Light of Hope ceremony was held at the Lamp Post in Franklin last week. The ceremony, hosted by the St. Mary Parish Mothers Against Drunk Driving Chapter (MADD), serves to remember those affected by impaired driving as well as honor law enforcement for their efforts in taking drunk drivers off of the roadways.
Jacki Ackel with the local MADD chapter said she is happy to report a decrease in impaired driving arrests made by the 7 parish law enforcement agencies. In 2015, there were a total of 147 arrests made by parish agencies. Ackel says that number is down by 35 when compared to the same time period in 2014.
Members of parish and state law enforcement agencies were honored for their work in taking impaired drivers off the roadways. St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Mathew Moore received recognition for making 6 arrests for driving while intoxicated. Deputy Taurean Smith was recognized for making 5 impaired driving arrests over the year. Deputies with the St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Office made a total of 47 DWI arrests in 2013, 41 in 2014, and 31 DWI arrests in 2015 showing a continued decrease.
Sheriff Mark Hebert says, “I commend Sergeant Moore and Deputy Smith for their diligent work in taking drivers who are a danger to others and themselves off the roadways. Their efforts are a part of getting convicted impaired drivers the help they need and ensuring the safety of all those on the roads in St. Mary Parish.”
From left to right: Captain John Kahl, Jr., Captain Sennet Wiggins, Sergeant Mathew Moore, Deputy Taurean Smith, Major Gary Driskell, and Major Scott Anslum
According to guest speaker Judge Elect Lewis Pitman, much has changed over the last 3 decades when it comes prosecuting and sentencing those accused and convicted of impaired driving. Pittman says for DWI convictions in the 80’s, “the penalty wasn’t that severe, the fine wasn’t that terrible, and the loss of driving privileges didn’t happen.”
As a result of the push for safer roads by groups like MADD and law enforcement, the state legislature has enacted harsher penalties over the years.
District Judge Elect Lewis Pitman
Pitman added that the Louisiana Supreme Court recently decided to transition to a treatment program that will categorize and treat offenders based on risk. Pitman says the current program does not differentiate between first time low risk offenders and higher risk repeat offenders. The new program will begin to go into effect in 2016.
However, Pitman says those types of programs do not deter the first time offender. Like many, he calls the prevalent use of alcohol in St. Mary Parish a cultural phenomenon. “The cultural use of alcohol is ingrained.” He says, “The only thing that’s gonna change this is education,” and commended Mothers Against Drunk Driving for being the foremost points in that fight for education.
The ceremony was sponsored by the St. Mary Parish MADD Chapter, Red Ribbon Committee, and Lamp Post Event Center.
St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Office
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