KIHEI - As they watchede officers stop drivers at a police DUI roadblock Saturday night, some Baldwin High School students said that they hoped they were helping spread the message against drinking and driving this holiday season.
"We're helping other people to drive safely and make sure they're not in danger," said Jenni Macalipis, a freshman.
She was among about 30 students from the school's Students Against Destructive Decisions club who held signs along South Kihei Road near Uwapo Road as police officers directed drivers into a DUI checkpoint. The students, joined by Mothers Against Drunk Driving volunteers, carried signs with messages like "Arrive Alive. Don't Drink and Drive." After police officers checked the drivers, students handed out bottles of water while thanking drivers who the officers determined to be sober.
DUI Task Force officer Rusty Lawson looks on as Baldwin High School junior Genesis Querubin thanks a motorist for driving sober at a police DUI roadblock on South Kihei Road near Uwapo Road on Saturday night. About 30 students from the Baldwin Students Against Destructive Decisions club and Mothers Against Drunk Driving volunteers joined officers at the roadblock.
The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo
Baldwin school resource officer Kaleo Alconcel, who helped organize the annual event, said that the experience was "very valuable" for the students.
"They go back with a story to tell," he said. "Not all kids get to experience an actual functioning roadblock. It's a good experience for them.
"Hopefully, they don't see a drunk-driving arrest tonight, which means our roads are a little safer this season."
While no one was arrested at the roadblock Saturday night, some students watched as police officers had a few drivers step out of their vehicles for further evaluation. DUI Task Force officers directed the drivers to follow a light from a moving flashlight with their eyes, walk heel-to-toe in a straight line and stand on one leg for 30 seconds, as part of field sobriety testing, before determining that they weren't driving under the influence of an intoxicant and letting them go.
DUI Task Force officer Carl Eguia, who also helped organize the roadblock, said he was glad to see so many youths who volunteered to be there on the first day of their winter break.
"It's encouraging to see them come out on a Saturday night, especially starting Christmas vacation and especially spending time doing this," Eguia said. "It shows that it's important to them to get the message across not to drink and drive."
William Wandell, a junior, said "it's worth it to catch people who could possibly harm people."
"We can go around and help people from making destructive decisions so they won't hurt themselves or anybody, especially kids," Wandell said.
Genesis Querubin, also a junior, said that she liked being involved in the club with "amazing" fellow students. "We build each other up," she said.
It was the third year that club Treasurer Kathlyn Parubrub was participating, in hope that passing motorists would "learn not to drink and drive."
Eguia, who talked with students before the roadblock, said: "They're really excited about coming out here and helping. They think it's cool that we get to stop people from drinking and driving. Their biggest concern is that they spread the word not to drink and drive. They just want to give back to the community."
Akina Bus Service donated transportation for the students, who were bused to and from the roadblock.
The event followed sign waving Friday afternoon along Kaahumanu Avenue fronting Baldwin High School that marked the start of the national "Over The Limit. Under Arrest" campaign. About 50 students, including many who also showed up at the roadblock, were joined by police officers and County Council Member Mike Victorino, who holds the Wailuku residency seat.
Drivers were honking their horns as they passed the students, said DUI Task Force officer Rusty Lawson, who organized the sign waving. "They got the message," he said. "That was the main thing."
So far this year, Maui police have made 789 arrests for driving under the influence of an intoxicant. The total includes 126 arrests for driving under the influence of drugs, the highest in the state, police said.
Eguia and fellow DUI Task Force officers Lawson and Dennis Arnds recently completed a two-week training to be certified as drug-recognition experts to evaluate whether a driver is under the influence of a drug and, if so, what kind.
Eguia estimated that each of the four Maui DUI Task Force officers makes 15 to 20 DUI arrests a month. Patrol officers also are stepping up to make impaired-driving arrests and set up sobriety checkpoints.
"We're even arresting people that have been arrested before," Eguia said. "They're not learning. Hopefully, with all this we'll cut down on drinking and driving."
In most of the 22 traffic deaths this year on Maui County roads, alcohol, drugs or speeding have been factors, police said.
"Everybody thinks our job is to arrest people," Eguia said.
But he said he's glad when just seeing a police officer or hearing about a roadblock causes someone to decide against getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol.
"If they see us and they don't get in their car, that's actually better for us than if we have to arrest them," Eguia said. "Voluntary compliance is what we're looking for. We just want people to comply with the laws and be safe - those are our main goals."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.