DUI fatalities up across NorCal, prosecutors say

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Fatal crashes involving drivers who are drunk behind the wheel have gone up in Northern California, seven high-ranking county prosecutors said at a press conference held Wednesday.

The information was announced just days before Christmas – a holiday season that routinely sees an increase of intoxicated drivers coming home from events and parties.

According to Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, vehicular manslaughter cases prosecuted by her office involving intoxicated drivers have increased by 125% since January.

“What is really concerning for us here in Sacramento County is the significant increase in the number of vehicular manslaughter cases,” she said. “We’re talking about DUI fatalities where people have lost their lives in Sacramento County.”

One of those lives lost was David Jerome Smith, a father who collided head-on with a Chevy Silverado on Highway 99 in May. The truck’s driver, who was drunk, now faces felony DUI and gross vehicular manslaughter charges.

According to the Sacramento Police Department and local CHP offices, general traffic fatalities have also gone up by 33%.

In Yolo County, officials say, vehicular manslaughter cases involving intoxication have risen from 1 in 2020 to 5 in 2021. Local law enforcement officials there are currently working to crack down on DUI as part of the Woodland Police Department’s Winter Mobilization initiative.

In El Dorado County, more of the same – 14 people have died as a result of DUI this year, District Attorney Vern Pierson said.

“These are really dramatic numbers,” Pierson said. “When we say that, we’re talking about numbers, but these are real people – not a statistic – that have lost their lives due to someone driving in a reckless and impaired way.”

Placer County DA Morgan Gire took time out of his speaking slot to echo the sentiment of his fellow prosecutors, who highlighted the human side of DUI cases.

“Our hearts break with these cases,” Gire said. “These are cases from a prosecutor’s standpoint that you remember more than others.”

On Thanksgiving weekend, Gire said, two people were killed by drunk drivers in the same day. One person was also killed in nearby Nevada County.

Prosecutors say impaired driving has increased as alcohol sales have shot up due to increased stress surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Gire highlighted the unique presence of drunk drivers on the way to Lake Tahoe, where the roads can get particularly snowy.

“We have cried with our surviving victims’ family members, we have advocated for them in court, and we will continue to do all we can outside of the courtroom to get this message out there,” he said.

Outside of the penalties that manslaughter and felony DUI charges carry, prosecutors can charge suspected drunk drivers in fatal crashes with murder if that same driver was previously convicted of DUI.

That charge was recently levied in Sacramento County against Armando Moreno-Rodriguez, who allegedly struck-and-killed 76-year-old Mike Dodson as he rode his bicycle near the American River Parkway. Court records show his case is still ongoing.

Ethan Biando
Ethan Biando is a freelance journalist from Sacramento. His writing focuses on crime, courts, and policing. Find him on Twitter @ethanb822

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