Ohio Valley law enforcement agents earn accolades from MADD

HONORED — Brooke County Sheriff’s Department deputies accepted awards at the annual Governor’s Highway Safety Program Awards Banquet held Thursday at River City Ale Works in Wheeling. They include, from left, Detective Gary Conley, Deputy Shane Siranovic and Deputy Kristen Richmond. -- Heather Ziegler

WHEELING — Chances are if you choose to drive impaired in Brooke County, Deputy Kristen Richmond will catch you and take you to jail.

In fact, the sheriff and all the deputies in Brooke County are looking out for just such offenders.

Richmond was named the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Safety Officer of 2017 during Thursday’s annual Governor’s Highway Safety Program Awards Banquet held at River City Ale Works. Also, the Northern Regional Highway Safety Office tapped the Brooke County Sheriff’s Department as top agency in DUI enforcement for the region for 2017.

During a five-month period, Richmond made 19 DUI arrests.

“I normally have about 60 arrests, but I was off the road for training and then an injury,” said Richmond. “People think we’re just out to get them, but we’re out there to keep the roads safe for your family and mine.”

MADD Wheeling President Jody Miller, whose daughter Heather died in an accident in 2008, welcomed national MADD President Colleen Sheehey-Church as the main speaker at the banquet. Sheehey-Church related her own story of the tragic loss of her 18-year-old son who was a passenger in a vehicle driven by an impaired driver. He drowned when the vehicle crashed into a river.

Sheehey-Church praised the work of the Wheeling MADD chapter and the students at Wheeling Park High School’s SADD — Students Against Destructive Decisions group. She also thanked law enforcement officers in attendance for their diligence in arresting impaired drivers, when they know how much paperwork and time is involved in such arrests.

“You are a small town (group), but you are mighty,” she said to Miller. She told officers they do “incredible work in saving lives” by making such arrests.

Citing figures for 2017, Sheehey-Church said 10,000 people were killed in the United States as a result of drunken or impaired driving and 290,000 people were injured.

During a one-year period, she said 28.7 million motorists admitted to driving drunk. In West Virginia, 68 people were killed in DUI accidents in 2016. Today, driving under the influence of drugs is on the rise, she noted.

“Driving impaired is not a choice, it is a crime,” said Sheehey-Church.

Nicole Cofer-Fleming, traffic safety resource prosecutor for the state’s highway safety program, tries DUI cases in Kanawha County. She spoke of the need for the public and legal community to see DUI offenders as criminals.

“This is not a victimless crime,” she said. “When officers make DUI stops they often also find lots of drugs. I thank all of the law enforcement officers for protecting our highways.

“We need to be proactive and stop these drivers before they devastate West Virginia families,” said Sheehey-Church.

Bryan Fato, executive manager of Straub Automotive, and MADD-Wheeling hosted Thursday’s banquet. Straub, MADD-Wheeling, and River City Ale Works received awards for being highway safety advocates. In addition to awards involving DUI programs, other highway safety programs touted during the dinner included red light target enforcement, seat belt enforcement, ATV and motorcycle safety, underage drinking and school programs.

Among the other awards presented were:

¯ Highway Safety Award of Excellence: Marshall County Sheriff’s Department.

¯ Target Red (Light) Award: Taylor White, Wellsburg Police; Sean Montz, Gen Dale Police; and Dezso Polgar, Hancock County Sheriff’s Department.

¯ Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Promotion of Highway Safety Efforts: Jim Wetzel, Ohio County Sheriff’s Department; Robert Shilling, Moundsville Police; and Polgar.

¯ DUI Enforcement Award: Polgar; Shilling; and Shane Siranovic, Brooke County Sheriff’s Department.

¯ Occupant Protection Award: Scott Little, Hancock County Sheriff’s Department; Peter Barton, Benwood Police; and Chance Weyand, Hancock County Sheriff’s Department.

¯ Outstanding Department Award for Promoting Highway Safety Through DUI Enforcement: Brooke County Sheriff’s Department; Hancock County Sheriff’s Department; and Ohio County Sheriff’s Department.