IRVING, Texas — The headlights of the dark-tinted police car illuminate the SUV ahead as the two vehicles travel down State Highway 183. The wheels of the late-’90s Tahoe briefly touch the dotted white line once, then twice, barely edging out of the lane.
“That one looks promising,” Irving police Officer Stephen Burres III says.
The Dallas Morning News reports Burres flicks on his lights. After the car pulls over about a minute later, a quick look through the back windows reveals crumpled Modelo cans shoved under the seats.
The driver isn’t drunk, though, and it seems like the stop is going to result in just a citation for open containers —until a passenger tries to ditch a baggie of cocaine right in front of Burres.
The resulting arrest — Burres’ only one of the night — isn’t totally out of the ordinary for the DWI officer.
Burres doesn’t drink — he never really acquired a taste for alcohol, he says. But he estimates that he’s dealt with more than 10,000 drunks.
He didn’t always plan to be a DWI officer, either, originally wanting to become a state trooper and retire as a Texas Ranger. While working with the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office in the ’90s, he went on a ride-along with a trooper to learn more about the job.
“That night ended my highway-patrol career,” he said.
Burres was hit by a drunken driver, sending his head through his windshield. When he looked down, he saw the heel of his cowboy boot up next to his knee: His leg was broken in 25 places.
“I had a plan, and God laughed,” Burres said.
With his dreams shattered, Burres decided to become a DWI officer to prevent more accidents like his own.
“Every time I stop a drunk driver, I just stopped him from killing that imaginary family down the road,” Burres says.
Burres joined the Irving Police Department in 2000 and helped form its DWI unit two years later. Now, the team is up to five officers and a sergeant.
Irving has no bars within city limits, and most of the DWI stops the department makes are westbound, Burres says, along State Highway 183 — people headed back into town from Dallas.
Collectively, the department made 1,000 DWI stops in 2015. Last year, that number fell to 771. Burres attributes the decline to several factors: the increase in ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft, increased awareness that officers are patrolling the roads and extensive highway construction.
“We have 80 miles of highway in Irving, and 79.9 of them are under construction,” Burres jokes.
But “this makes our job hard,” he adds, “because there’s no safe place to pull drunk drivers over.”
Increasingly strict legislation aims to cut down on drunken drivers, including new requirements for those convicted. To drive, second-time offenders must install an interlock device, which tests drivers’ sobriety before allowing them to start the car.
But Burres says some motorists will continue to drive while intoxicated no matter what.
After the Byron Nelson golf tournament in May, Burres said, the department was dispatched to a restaurant where a man was attempting to drunkenly drive home. Instead of arresting him, they called a cab and sent him on his way.
Shortly after, the restaurant called back, saying the man had returned to his car — he had paid the cabbie $50 to drop him off around the corner.
He was arrested just down the road by an officer lying in wait. His charges? A fourth DWI and cocaine possession.
Burres jokes, “You can’t fix stupid, but you can give it a court date.”
Throughout his career, the officer has racked up more than 4,000 DWI arrests. In July, he was honored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving at its annual luncheon.
While the organization believes drunken driving can be eradicated, Burres isn’t so sure.
“As nice as that sounds, it’s not going to happen in my lifetime,” he said.
But that doesn’t stop him from trying.
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by The Dallas Morning News