From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 8, Number 26 - September 18, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

County DUI Rate Models State Average

by Derek Farr

Sublette County’s booming energy economy may be fueling the state’s DUI conviction rate. In testimony before the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Interim Judiciary Committee, Tom Loftin of the state Department of Transportation said drunken driving convictions are increasing by about 150 per year.

During his testimony, Loftin said he believed much of the increase is due to the state’s energy boom, which puts transient workers on Wyoming roads.

In Sublette County, the energy boom’s impact on DUI conviction rates appears substantial.

According to Sublette County Circuit Court activity reports, the number of DUI convictions increased by 600 percent between 2000 (18 DUI convictions) and 2007 (125 convictions), while the county’s population increased by 33.87 percent in the same period.

According to the Sublette Community Partnership’s socioeconomic report, “The number of crimes reported and arrests made ... has continued to increase at a nearly exponential rate since 2000.”

The report cites DUI, drug possession and larceny as the primary factors for the increase. It also adds, “The rise in reported index crimes has been found to be highly correlated with the amount of rig activity in Sublette County...”

But other factors are responsible for the increase, according to Sheriff Wayne Bardin. Bardin said his department’s determination to slow down speeders on U.S. Highway 191 has led to more contacts with motorists and “the possibility of finding more DUIs.”

Counting Sublette residents, energy workers, tourists, commercial vehicles and commuters, Bardin estimates during peak hours 40,000 vehicles drive on county roads at any one time.

Last year alone, the sheriff’s department issued 1,937 citations and Bardin noted that number doesn’t include the citations issued by the Wyoming Highway Patrol’s (WHP) new Sublette County division.

According to Bardin, the number of vehicles, the number of driver contacts and the added WHP division have all contributed to more driver contacts which have led to higher conviction rates.

But Bardin is aware the energy industry contributes to his department’s workload. “You can only provide so much entertainment for these folks, and then they want to come to town,” he said of the mostly young male out-of-state workers housed in mancamps and working 12-hour shifts.

While Bardin feels long hours and high pay contribute to the energy workers’ run-ins with the law, he says the workers’ separation from family also play a role. “I think the one issue is the guys that come in... have a family somewhere and that family isn’t able to come with them,” he said. “I think the best police officer we have on a lot of these issues is the wife.”

With admittedly less influence than a wife, EnCana uses strict rules to encourage its workers to avoid legal troubles.

During a phone call from the Jonah, EnCana Community Relations Officer Randy Teeuwen said his company has a zero tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol.

“It’s just something we cannot tolerate,” he said. “We’ve got to keep people safe.” Teeuwen said EnCana has frequent safety meetings with its contractors and daily safety meetings on its rigs where “driving (safety) is always part of the discussion.”

While the company doesn’t have direct control over contractors’ speeding violations, EnCana has a strict policy concerning driving violations.

“Five miles over the speed limit and you’re not going to lose your job,” Teeuwen said, adding, “The penalty for getting a DUI as an EnCana employee could result in a termination.”

Even with its strict policies, Teeuwen said he hasn’t heard of an EnCana worker losing his/her job over a DUI. “Most of our employees like their jobs too much to take a chance like that.”

The fear of losing a job is a primary concern for defendants appearing before Sublette Circuit Court Judge Curt Haws.

“One thing I hear in initial appearances is, ‘This is going to cost me my job,’” he said. “But like most penalties, I don’t think it’s in the thought process until after they have messed up.”

Haws keeps wha tmight be the best gauge of the energy industry’s effect on Sublette County’s legal system.

The judge informally records the occupations of defendants who appear in his court. He does it for two reasons. He needs the information to determine bond and he also submits the data to the sheriff’s department, the county commissioners and the county attorney as an indicator of the energy boom’s impact on the county.

While the results aren’t scientific, he found that in 2007, individuals who worked directly in the energy sector accounted for almost 30 percentof the court’s caseload.

This year that number is down to 26 percent.

Haws said the majority of energy workers who appear before him were separated from their families and that separation, plus tough working conditions, contribute to their behavior.

“The perception (of energy workers) is there’s not a lot to do but go to the bar and there’s not a whole lot of good things that results from that lifestyle,” he said.

The families of accused energy workers often drive from out of state for a husband/father’s court appearance, Haws said.

“Those guys, by in large, I don’t see back,” he said. “They admitwhat they’ve done, they pay their debt, and I don’t see them back here.”

Haws believes increased enforcement is the primary cause for the increase in DUI convictions.

He points to the 2008 statistics as evidence of his hypothesis.

Through July, the county recorded 56 DUI convictions compared to 81 convictions during the same period in 2007.

“We have a county attorney and law enforcement that are serious about it,” Haws said, citing the influence of prevention coalitions and copious citations in the campaign to reduce drunk driving.

For that, Haws is grateful.

“It’s one of the offenses that concerns me the very most,” Haws said. “Drivers have to know how dangerous it is to mix alcohol and gasoline.”

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