Sheriffs Want Holidays Free of Traffic Fatalities; Traffic Accidents Have Accounted for 237 Deaths This Year, Up 16 Percent from Last Year

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Byline: DEBORAH CEARNAL

Sheriff Rick Beseler and his colleagues from neighboring counties are joining forces this holiday season to prevent traffic fatalities -- especially those that are DUI-related.

"Any driver in these five counties who chooses to drink and drive will celebrate the holidays in one of our jails," Beseler said Thursday.

In addition to Clay, the sheriffs from Jacksonville, St. Johns, Putnam and Bradford counties gathered at Jacksonville Memory Gardens on Blanding Boulevard to remind motorists to "Celebrate Safely." In a campaign with the state Department of Transportation's Community Traffic Safety Team, the top law enforcement officers intend to raise awareness of the injuries and deaths associated with impaired driving during the holiday season.

Fifteen markers representing those who died from Thanksgiving to New Year's last year were set up at the cemetery. Of those, five were DUI-related. One was a Clay man who was killed when he slammed into a tree after failing to negotiate a curve at Doctors Lake Drive and Peoria Road.

Increasing patrols, emphasizing the need for a designated driver and DUI checkpoints are among the tactics the sheriffs intend to use to reduce traffic accidents. The officers also stress: Use seat belts, don't tailgate, plan trips and drive slower.

Statistics show 237 people have been killed in traffic accidents this year in the represented Northeast Florida counties. That's a 16 percent increase from last year -- and that is before the holiday season. …