BY KEN LITTLE
Each July 30 carries a poignant significance for Nancy Goins.
It's the anniversary of the day in 1993 that Goins, president of the Greeneville-Greene County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), lost her daughter Natisha to a drunk driver.
Natisha was only 16. Four other Greene County teenagers in the car were also killed in the head-on crash in Sevier County, along with the drunken driver who caused the wreck.
"My daughter died because somebody decided to drink and drive," Goins said. "They should not have died, period. We don't want it to continue."
Goins has used the anniversary of her daughter's death every year since 1995 to recognize the efforts of local law enforcement officers who lead their respective agencies in making driving-while-impaired arrests.
Those present Monday during a ceremony at Hardin Park include 10 active-duty officers who set the pace in DUI arrests from July 1, 2011, through June 30.
"It's very important because they believe in what they do. They put their lives in danger and do their jobs diligently to find the DUI drivers," Goins said.
"It's just one way to recognize our officers over here who had the most DUI arrests."
The ceremony is also held "to honor everyone who has been killed by a drunk driver or injured by a drunk driver," she said.
A CONTINUING PROBLEM
Despite education in schools and ongoing television and print ads warning of the consequences of drunken driving, the problem remains serious in Tennessee.
There were 50 alcohol-impaired crashes last year in Greene County, ranking the county 47th among the 95 in the state, according to crash rates compiled by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
There are indications of improvement. There were 82 alcohol-impaired crashes countywide in 2010, making Greene County 13th-highest in the state.
"I think overall there's a lot more people using a designated driver, and the education is better," said Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Jonathan Street, who made 106 DUI arrests in the one-year period ending on June 30.
Street, one of those recognized Monday by MADD, is based in Fall Branch.
The local MADD chapter was formed in 1994. Members of MADD perform a number of functions, including advocating for tougher laws, lending support at DUI checkpoints, handing out educational literature, and assisting victims in the courtroom.
Goins can only shake her head when she speaks about the horrific July 19 crash this year on Chuckey Pike that took the life of Kiley Shelton, 33.
The driver of the car involved in the wreck, 32-year-old Marcus W. Strong, is a convicted Habitual Motor Vehicle offender.
Strong was charged with his seventh DUI in connection with the fatal crash.
Goins said she will assist in the courtroom any way she can.
"He has seven DUIs. He shouldn't be driving," she said. "I'll be there. Whatever you can do, you're supposed to do."
Street, who had the most DUI arrests of those at Monday's ceremony, said there has been a decline in alcohol-related drunken driving arrests, but there are now more impaired drivers on the road under the influence of prescription drugs such as oxycodone.
Repeat DUI offenders are not uncommon, Street added.
"This year alone, I've had three people [arrested] that have been out on bond [for pending DUIs]," Street said.
THP Sgt. Christopher Moore, also based in Fall Branch, said it's become more difficult to predict peak times when drunken drivers will be on the road.
"There's not the one day of the week, per se. There's total randomness now, and that's what prescription medication brought to the picture," Moore said.
Trooper Jeff Appleba, who made 97 DUI arrests for the year ending June 30, agreed.
"Sometimes the pills are worse than alcohol," he said.
MANY REVOKED DRIVERS
While DUI laws are getting tougher, many offenders are not deterred from continuing to drive by having their driver licenses suspended or revoked.
Street said that Tennessee Department of Safety figures show that, on any given day, between 800,000 and 900,000 drivers with revoked or suspended licenses are behind the wheel.
It's a constant battle to keep impaired drivers off the road, Sgt. Moore said. Law enforcement officers are committed to the job.
"These guys don't get enough credit for what they do," he said. "I can't even begin to describe what it takes to prosecute 100-plus [cases]. They never slow down."
Street and Appleba "are two of the best I've ever seen," Moore said.
The most difficult part of the job for Street "is having to knock on somebody's door and telling them they've lost a family member."
Enforcing DUI laws "is something we have a passion for," he said.
'PILL PROBLEM' A FACTOR
Chuck Humphreys, a veteran Greene County sheriff's deputy, made 27 DUI arrests for the year ending June 30. Humphreys has also noticed different driving patterns.
"It's just changing with the pill problem," he said. "You're seeing as many DUIs during the day as you're seeing at night anymore [and] it's primarily pills.
"Personally, I don't see as many alcohol DUIs as I did 10 years ago. I think it's because the pills are so readily accessible," Humphreys said. "It's more pills and synthetic drugs."
Humphreys said one way to enforce the law more effectively, particularly in a county the size of Greene, is to put more officers on the road.
He said he has seen first-hand the effect drunken drivers can have on innocent victims.
"I've personally worked several (DUI) wrecks that just destroyed people -- not just injured them," he said.
"None of us is here for the recognition. It's something I want to do for my community."
'THE BEST YOU CAN DO'
Greeneville police Officer Eddie Key made 14 DUI arrests for the year ending June 30. Key says he sees just as many impaired drivers on the road as he did earlier in his career.
"The only shift is, there's less alcohol-related DUIs and more (involving) prescription medication," he said.
Key said it's good for fellow officers to know their work is appreciated.
"You go out there and do the best you can do," he said.
Enhanced sentencing guidelines for those found guilty of DUI "would be the only way" to send an effective message to the driving public, Key said.
Craig Fillers, assistant chief of the Greeneville Police Department, said local law enforcement appreciates the efforts of Goins and other members of MADD.
"It's fantastic for the officers," he said. "Nancy is great to do this."
In addition to Street, Appleba, Humpheys and Key, others recognized by MADD on Monday for their efforts in DUI enforcement include: Greeneville police Officer Roy Milton, with 17 arrests between July 1, 2011, and June 30; Greene County Sheriff's Department Sgt. David Beverly, eight arrests; Deputy John Stills, six arrests; Deputy Randy Christy, six arrests; Deputy Jon Harness, six arrests; and Deputy Michael MacDonald, six arrests.