Drivers traveling north on Pike Street in Marietta Friday night were greeted by bright flashing lights, a long line of orange cones and more than a dozen uniformed officers from various law enforcement agencies.
“OVI Checkpoint Ahead. Be Prepared to Stop,” blinked one bright sign.
Several hundred cars made their way through the sobriety checkpoint, which was set up near the Century 21 Real Estate Office on Pike Street.
The checkpoint was a way to remind the community that as the weather gets warmer and the sometimes-boozy summer celebrations begin, law enforcement will be drawing a hard line when it comes to drunk driving, said Lt. Carlos Smith of the Ohio State Highway Patrol Marietta Post.
“From our perspective these checkpoints are more of an educational tool for the public,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for troopers to make contact with the public to let them know we’re out there aggressively patrolling for OVIs.”
The patrol made an arrest for OVI outside the checkpoint on Ohio 7 Friday, made by one of the officers working a “saturation” post, maintaining a presence outside the official checkpoint.
Another driver pulled into the Food 4 Less parking lot before the checkpoint, admitted to police he was drunk and said he was walking home because there were too many officers around. He was not arrested since he wasn’t observed committing a moving violation.
“We accomplished our goal,” said Sgt. Garic Warner of the Marietta post of the patrol. “We want to get them off the streets.”
Several curious bystanders wandered into the parking lot of Stacy’s Dance Studio to talk to officers as they set up the checkpoint.
Angie Barnett, 47, of Parkersburg, had been eating at the Cone ‘N Shake when her three grandsons asked to go over and talk to officers.
“They like the police,” she said of grandsons Zackariah May, 5, and Jairin Harris and Adien May, both 4.
OSHP Trooper Lea Mikes gave each of the three boys a bag filled with a law enforcement themed coloring book, a ruler and other goodies.
One of the nice things about the checkpoint, said Warner, is it provides a way to have positive contact with the public.
“Usually when you’re stopping someone, they already did something wrong. This is a good way to interact with mostly law-abiding citizens,” he said.
The troopers were joined by K-9 units and law enforcement officials from the Marietta Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
“We would like to eradicate drunk driving entirely,” said Marietta Police Officer A.J. Linscott. “We know that we’re not going to eradicate it entirely, but we like to do our part.”
Cars were usually stopped four at a time and asked for license and registration. Those without a license on them were diverted into Stacy’s Dance Studio parking lot for further verification.
For the most part, those running the checkpoint got positive feedback from the cars going through.
“Everyone seems happy and appreciative that we’re out here doing this,” said OSHP Trooper Luke Forshey.
Forshey said the goal was to have every car checked and on its way in 45 to 60 seconds.
Marietta residents Tom and Jackie Gilkenson, who were on a walk in the area, said the checkpoint was a great idea.
“I didn’t know they did this in Ohio,” said Tom, 53. “I’ve seen them in West Virginia, but never here.”
The timing and location of the checkpoint were designed to have maximum impact, said Smith.
It began around 9 p.m.
Marietta has the highest concentration of OVI arrests and OVI related crashes in Washington County, according to statistics from the OSHP.
The City of Marietta saw 25 OVI-related crashes in 2012 and has already seen two in 2013. There have already been 17 drunk driving arrests in Marietta this year, nearly a third of the total 56 county OVI arrests.
No drunk drivers had been caught at the checkpoint as of 11 p.m. The checkpoint was scheduled to continue until midnight.