Checkpoint Strikeforce is back for another season, with almost 100 law enforcement officers from across the state -- including Smyrna and Clayton -- ready to keep impaired drivers off the roads.

Checkpoint Strikeforce is back for another season, with almost 100 law enforcement officers from across the state -- including Smyrna and Clayton -- ready to keep impaired drivers off the roads.

The officers were given multi-jurisdictional powers during a swearing-in ceremony conducted by Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn Thursday on Legislative Mall in Dover.

The event was highlighted by an emotional speech from Colleen Sheehey-Church, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who recounted the death of her 18-year-old son, Dustin, in 2004.

The young man was a passenger in a car whose driver not only was underage but drugged and intoxicated, she said. The vehicle, which was going 70 mph in a 35 mph zone, missed a turn and went into a river. While driver and another passenger escaped, Dustin was trapped inside and for at least 10 minutes fought a losing battle to escape drowning.

She learned of her son’s death when a police officer came to her door several hours later.

“I know that’s not an easy thing, I cannot imagine it,” she said of that encounter. “But I saw in his eyes that he had done it way too many times.”

“I don’t remember his words, I’ll never remember his words, but I’ll always remember his eyes,” Sheehey-Church said.

Perhaps one of the officers in the audience, working to prevent impaired driving through Checkpoint Strikeforce or other types of sobriety checkpoints, will stop a similar tragedy in Delaware, she said.

(SUBHED) Smyrna and Clayton connection

Clayton Police Chief Brian Hill said five officers in his department are participating in Checkpoint Strikeforce.

“The purpose of the program is two sided,” said Hill “It’s educational, to help make people aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, and it’s also about enforcement – taking impaired drivers off the roadways to protect citizens.”

Hill said the checkpoints raise awareness of the problem and the penalties of driving while impaired.

“When you have a checkpoint, it’s more educational. It’s a visible deterrent. Word gets around when there are going to be checkpoints,” he said. “It’s also a chance to talk to a lot of drivers and get that message out there to help public awareness.”

Five officers will also be joining the program from the Smyrna Police Department, according to Smyrna Cpl. Brian Donner.

“The goals of this Office of Highway Safety initiative are very simple – to reduce and eliminate any and all impaired drivers from Delaware’s roadways,” said Donner. “Half of all fatal crashes in Delaware last year involved impaired driving according to OHS.”

He said the Office of Highway Safety provides funding for supplemental overtime patrols with specific targets such as distracted drivers, speeding and aggressive driving, motorcycle safety and DUI enforcement. Participation by the officers is voluntary and they will be compensated for their hours by the Office of Highway Safety, he said.

“We were honored to be invited by the OHS to join this statewide initiative against impaired driving,” said Donner. “By assigning officers to these checkpoints we hope to detect and arrest these offenders before they can do harm to any innocent motorists or pedestrians on the roadway whether in Smyrna or anywhere else in our state.”

(SUBHED) Program’s history and future

Checkpoint Strikeforce was started 15 years ago in an effort to catch drunk, drugged and otherwise impaired drivers and get them off the road, said Jana Simpler, director of the state Office of Highway Safety.

In prior years, checkpoints concentrated mostly on New Castle County, OHS community relations officer Lisa L. Flowers said, and in general were held weekly.

This year there will not be as many checkpoints in New Castle as the program will reach out past the county’s borders, Flowers said.

The first series of checkpoints will begin Friday night, July 15, with two each in New Castle and Sussex counties and one in Kent County. There will be at least four Checkpoint Strikeforce operations during the year.

About $150,000 has been allocated in overtime pay for participating officers, Flowers said.

Local police jurisdictions also may hold their own checkpoints to stop those who should not be on the road.

Anyone pulled over for impaired driving can count on being arrested, she said.

According to statistics provided by the OHS, at least 52 percent of fatal crashes in 2015 in the First State involved impaired drivers. Almost three-quarters of those involved in such crashes are men.

There were 4,175 DUI arrests in 2015, up from 3,917 in 2014; the number of arrests peaked in August.

Simpler said this year’s Checkpoint Strikeforce program will run through December.

Sun-Times editor Ben Mace contributed to this story.