Restaurant Owners, State Officials Rally To Prevent Impaired Driving Over Holiday Weekend

The Governor’s Highway Safety Program along with members of the Raleigh Police Department, Wake County Sheriff’s Office and N.C. State Highway Patrol gathered Thursday at The Pit restaurant in Raleigh to kick off the statewide “Booze It & Lose It” St. Patrick’s Day weekend anti-drunk driving enforcement and education campaign.

“Since drunk driving accounts for nearly one third of vehicle-related fatalities across North Carolina, and many of those drunk drivers will be gathering at restaurants and bars over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend, NCGHSP is partnering with law enforcement and restaurant owners to raise awareness of the dangers of impaired driving, specifically on this weekend,” said Governor’s Highway Safety Program Director Mark Ezzell.

Owners of Empire Eats, which is the parent company of The Pit, Sitti, The Raleigh Times Bar, The Morning Times, Gravy, The Mecca Restaurant and Empire Eats Catering, highlighted the issue of impaired driving on St. Patrick’s Day and every other day of the week.

“Not only do we employ about 500 people, but our historic restaurants are distinctive dining destinations for thousands of people on any given day of the week,” said owner Greg Hatem. “This St. Patrick’s Day weekend, we’re hoping that the message on this flier from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program impresses upon everyone that walks through the doors of our eateries, that they must pre-plan before they party.”

“You’re only as lucky as your plan is. Please, enjoy yourselves while out this weekend – eat, drink, be merry, kiss a leprechaun, but make a plan. We’re asking simply that you plan to ride share, call a cab, call a friend, take public transportation or identify a designated driver. Enjoying yourself at one of our eateries also means supporting our vision of ‘Empire Eats’ that’s grounded in family, community and preservation. We have a long-standing commitment to require all of our servers to be trained in a program that helps customers not over drink in our establishments as well. We’re hoping our measures to support this anti-drunk driving initiative helps our patrons and our community remain safe this St. Patrick’s Day weekend.”

Law enforcement agencies from all 100 counties will be conducting patrols through Sunday, March 15 to remove impaired drivers from the roadways and ultimately save lives. Speaking on behalf of agencies around the state was Raleigh police Captain Dedric Bond.

“I’m here in a show of solidarity with all members of law enforcement who will be on the hunt this weekend for those drivers who make a conscious choice to violate the law,” Bond said. “We’ll be looking for those drivers who make a conscious choice to have one too many. We’ll be looking for those drivers who make a conscious choice to grab their keys. And we’ll be looking for those drivers who make a conscious choice to get behind the wheel of a vehicle impaired.

“For those folks who are thinking about their plans for this St. Patrick’s Day weekend and are not including a plan for a safe ride home, we your friendly neighbors behind the badge want you to know that we’ll be making a conscious choice to stop you, detain you, arrest you and fine you.”

Statistics show that this weekend, someone will die at the hands of a drunk driver.

Just last year during the same weeklong campaign, impaired driving accounted for crashes that caused 91 serious injuries and 20 deaths in North Carolina. In 2018, there were 50 serious injuries and 13 deaths related to drunk driving. During the 2019 St. Patrick’s Day Weekend in Johnston County, there were 88 accidents, 1 fatality and 3 serious injuries reported.

Retired Rocky Mount Police Department public safety communications officer Eric Lyn Russ, who survived a crash involving an impaired driver, spoke today about his experience.

“I heard the stories of encounters people have had with drunk drivers, but it didn’t quite hit me until one actually did,” Russ said. “I was driving my 1984 Dodge Ram pickup truck approximately a quarter mile from my house, I saw a large 70s model pickup truck passing another vehicle and before I realized it the truck was driving straight toward me. He hit me head on. My truck was completely totaled. My body was a mess and I still struggle to this day due to the actions of this impaired driver.”

“We’ve heard many statistics and numbers here today. I’m here representing one. You can save the life of just one person if you don’t drive impaired. It takes one moment to make a decision that could drastically change your life and the life of someone else.”