Houston’s Harris County has the highest rate of alcohol-related traffic deaths among the nation's most populous counties, says the Houston Chronicle. A series of horrific crashes blamed on drunken drivers in recent days seems to back the claim. The county's high DWI fatality rate is partly a byproduct of limited public transportation for the region's 3.9 million residents and an urban sprawl leading them to drive many miles. Stepped-up enforcement by more officers patrolling the roadways at peak times for drunken driving offenses keeps the county jail full of DWI suspects.
District Attorney Pat Lykos, citing around 10,000 driving while intoxicated cases filed each year, has called the DWI problem a “pandemic plague.” The most recent victims include a housewife whose pickup was forced off an overpass, a Pakistani immigrant killed while helping a stranded motorist on a Freeway, a volunteer firefighter left legless after being hit in an auto parts store parking lot, and a veteran Houston police officer critically injured while directing traffic around a crash on a freeway. Lykos hopes to lower DWI rates by offering first-time offenders a pretrial probation term that avoids a conviction, in hopes of getting more into treatment.