CORPUS CHRISTI (KIII NEWS) - Corpus Christi had the highest number of drunk driving arrests in the city's history in 2016. This year's numbers are down, however.
"People are starting to get educated, and they're starting to utilize services like Uber, Lyft and even the local taxi companies, which is what we should do," said Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez. "That way you're not one of these numbers here on our 2017 DWI statistics."
There have been 937 arrests and only 111 felony DWI cases this year. 76 of those 111 are with three or more prior convictions including the felony arrest, and 10 for intoxicated assault. There have been 23 with a child passenger involved, and two for intoxicated manslaughter. There have been 298 DWI arrests so far this year that involved traffic crashes.
"If you look at the numbers, 111 are repeat offenders out of the 937 over the year of at least 2017," Gonzalez said.
Critics have complained that first-time drunk drivers are getting off too easy, but Gonzalez said he wants to give the benefit of the doubt to first-time offenders.
"If it's your first time, typically no accident involved, we'll give you what's called a pre-trial diversion on a driving while intoxicated. That'll be one-year probation. You have to go through alcohol class. You have to report monthly to the probation department, and then your case is actually dismissed at the end," Gonzalez said. "We try to help out those individuals who make a mistake. If you do it twice, you're not really making a mistake anymore."
When Gonzalez was younger, he was arrested for drunk driving.
"When I was 19 you couldn't tell me anything. I didn't really care. Really, ignorance is bliss. Now that I'm the DA I know all the things that can happen to you and it's scary," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez has watched a family member suffer for the same mistake.
"I've had a family member who graduated from college. And the day after she took her final, she got behind the wheel and hurt somebody. For the rest of her life, she'll be a felon. And that one mistake has cost her all these years," Gonzalez said.
Over the last decade, the number of drunk driving arrests has almost doubled, from 859 in 2005 to more than 1,400 in 2016.
Gonzalez said stepped-up police efforts with officers receiving specialized training is also having an impact.
"Law enforcement is actually out there actively patrolling and even has specialized units looking for individuals who are driving while under the influence or intoxicated," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez's goal is to see the number of repeat offenders come down and he hopes education will help cut the number of first-time offenders.
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