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'A catastrophic problem’: Tracking DWI arrests in Harris County

HOUSTON – From the streets of Houston to the suburbs to our homes, driving under the influence is a crime seen in every neighborhood across Harris County.

Records from the District Attorney’s Office show from Jan. 1st, 2018 through Oct. 25th, 2019 there were more than 26,000 driving while intoxicated cases filed in Harris County.

“It is a catastrophic problem; it’s a health crisis,” said Sean Teare, head of the DA’s vehicular crimes division. “You save lives when you take these people off the roads before the worst happens.”

Exactly which areas are seeing the most DWI arrests was something KPRC 2 Investigates wanted to know.

We analyzed the county’s databases of charges by zip code. Two of the highest zip codes are right next to each other.

Zip code 77007 showed more than 510 arrests and 77002 showed 428 arrests. That’s not surprising, given these are the downtown and Washington Avenue corridors, which are filled with bars and nightspots.

Zip code 77057, just west of the Galleria, logged another 427 arrests.

“We’re catching some of them before they disperse out on to the interstates and out on to the bigger roads,” Teare said. “The ones that get through that net, the ones that get onto 45 driving the wrong way, those are the ones that keep me up at night.”

“My dad got run over by a drunk driver when he was an officer,” said Sgt. Don Egdorf, who heads the Houston Police Department’s DWI task force. “It changed everything about us as a family.”

Egdorf said his father fortunately survived, but required months of rehabilitation. Egdorf said he understands the lifelong trauma families suffer from drunk driving accidents.

“DWI arrest numbers for this year are way, way up compared to last year’s,” Egdorf said.

The Houston Police Department alone reported over 5,150 DWI arrests in 2018. By the end of November this year, the department already logged 7,924 arrests.

“The common question or response to it is, ‘Man, there’s a lot more drunks out there on the street.’ I don’t really believe that’s true. I believe we’re doing a better job of catching them,” Egdorf said.

When it comes to DWI enforcement, it’s not all bright lights, big city. In zip code 77536, which is the Deer Park area, the DA’s records showed nearly 500 charges. In zip Code 77571, which is La Porte, county records showed 474 cases.

“This is a social issue, it’s not just a law enforcement or criminal justice issue,” said Sgt. Bennie Boles with La Porte police. “We need our communities to really stand up, to take away the keys from one another, to be responsible.”

Boles says while the department has made DWI enforcement a priority, some of their higher numbers come from people passing through La Porte on their way to and from Houston, Baytown and Kemah.

Plus, La Porte, like HPD, addressed suspected drunken drivers who refuse to provide breath or blood samples for testing.

“The city of La Porte is a 24 hour, 7 day a week, 365 days a year; we are no refusal,” Boles said. “We will get a warrant for their blood.”

All of these efforts are design to try to cut down on the number of DWI related deaths in Harris County.

“Harris County has led the nation in DWI related fatalities every year for at least 18 years,” Teare said.

Eric Stephens knows that pain all too well.

Stephens was five minutes from home and his daughter Jade was just shy of her 10th birthday.

“Guy ran a stop sign and t-boned me," he said. "I was driving and Jade was sitting behind. She died in my wife’s arms.”

That was five years ago and the drunk driver who killed Jade went to prison. Stephens teamed up with MADD and made it his mission to share his daughter's story. A story of how his family is forever forced to live with the consequences of someone else's bad decision.

“It never gets better for me," Stephens said. “You just learn how to deal with it.”

Below is a map of DWI cases filed with the Harris County DA’s Office from Jan. 1st, 2018 through Oct. 25th, 2019. The map is broken down by census tracts and contains the number of DWI cases made in a given area. If you zoom in to a particular area you can see the exact locations where DWI arrests were reported.

Map created by Esri, a location intelligence company.