To curb Wellington drunk driving, PBSO operation nets 28 DUI arrests

Jan 25, 2018
Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies have made 28 DUI arrests in Wellington since Dec. 1, the start of Operation Wild Stallion. (Jennifer Podis/The Palm Beach Post)

A campaign to halt drunk driving and underage drinking in Wellington has led to more than two dozen arrests and hundreds of traffic stops in less than two months.

Capt. Rolando Silva, a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office District 8 commander, said there have been 28 DUI arrests since Operation Wild Stallion launched Dec. 1.

“We’ve been very active with our initiative,” Silva told Wellington’s village council Tuesday night.

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PBSO launched the campaign with the village in response to calls from the council and community in the wake of a late-November crash that killed two up-and-coming equestrians and seriously hurt another. Dana McWilliams, 19, lost control of her Chevy Camaro on southbound South Shore Boulevard between Pierson and Lake Worth roads about 11:30 p.m. on Nov. 25. She and her front-seat passenger, 21-year-old Christian Kennedy, were killed. The back-seat passenger, Elaine O’Halloran, was critically injured.

McWilliams’ blood-alcohol level was four times Florida’s .02 blood-alcohol limit for drivers under the age of 21, according to a report released last month from the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s Office.

In addition to the DUI arrests, PBSO spokeswoman Teri Barbera confirmed Wednesday that as a result of undercover operations, two servers at Wellington establishments were issued notices to appear for serving underage customers. She declined to name the establishments.

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PBSO deputies also have made 1,000 traffic stops related to Operation Wild Stallion, Silva said. The campaign, including the undercover operation and patrols in unmarked vehicles, will continue through the end of March.

Mayor Anne Gerwig asked Silva if a December roundtable with members of the equestrian and education communities and representatives of businesses that serve alcohol was productive.

“That was an excellent meeting,” Silva said, adding, “Everybody was on board. Everybody understood the seriousness of this issue.”

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For the most part, he said, businesses have been following the rules — and those that aren’t will pay the price.

“It was devastating for those families and the people that knew them,” Gerwig said of the Nov. 25 crash. “Unfortunately those 28 DUIS aren’t very happy, but way happier than the families of people that didn’t make it home.”

Vice Mayor John McGovern said he went on a ridealong with PBSO deputies soon after the December roundtable, and was with them Dec. 23 when 74-year-old John “Jay” Stermer was hit and killed by a car while walking his dogs along Big Blue Trace. The vehicle that hit him had been struck by another car whose driver appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, according to a PBSO report.

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“That was the third fatality involving drinking and driving in our village in the last two months,” Silva noted.

The village does not want to measure Operation Wild Stallion’s success by the number of arrests, but by the awareness raised and by there being less drinking and driving, McGovern said.

Councilman Michael Drahos said McGovern “spoke to the heart” of the issue.

“We want the reputation that if you are going to drive within these borders and put your life and others’ lives at risk, we are going to catch you because this council is going to put the fullest resources available and give them to (PBSO) to give you the tools to do this,” Drahos told Silva.

“With the unmarked cars, you’re really taking a risk coming into the village if you’re going to be drinking and driving,” Silva said. “Zero tolerance.”