WAIKAPU - Some Maui police officers honored Tuesday for their work in taking drunken and impaired drivers off the road say they are seeing an increase in young people driving under the influence of prescription medication.
"A lot of the people are under the impression that because it's legally prescribed, they can drive," said Kihei patrol officer Mark Hada, who has made a number of such arrests during daytime hours. "Some of these drugs can actually impair you worse than alcohol. They're driving under a false sense of security that they're not going to get arrested."
Hada, who made 61 arrests for operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant from September 2011 to September 2012, was among Maui Police Department officers recognized for their work by Mothers Against Drunk Driving Hawaii.
Kihei patrol officer Mark Hada (left) and DUI Task Force officer Dennis Arnds were recognized for their DUI enforcement work at a Mothers Against Drunk Driving Hawaii luncheon Tuesday. Arnds, who made 133 impaired-driving arrests in a year, received the Top Cop award.
The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo
DUI Task Force officer Rusty Lawson and Andrea Maniago of Wailuku received volunteer awards from MADD at the luncheon.
The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo
At an annual recognition luncheon Tuesday at Maui Tropical Plantation, the organization also presented a Top Cop award to DUI Task Force officer Dennis Arnds, who made 133 impaired-driving arrests in a year. A team award went to the MPD Traffic Section, headed by Lt. David Silva, which includes the five-member DUI Task Force and six-member Vehicle Homicide Unit.
Other awards went to Wailuku patrol officer Duke Pua, who made 53 impaired-driving arrests; Lanai patrol officer Ryan Ehlers, who made eight DUI arrests; Hana patrol officer Jason Thompson, who made one DUI arrest; Lahaina patrol officer Justin Mauliola, who made 25 DUI arrests; and Molokai patrol officer Miroslav Bashev, who made six DUI arrests.
A volunteer award was presented to DUI Task Force officer Rusty Lawson, who has worked with MADD to organize community events on Maui. Lawson also represented MPD at legislative hearings on the "Move Over" bill, signed into law by Gov. Neil Abercrombie in July, that requires motorists to slow down and move over when approaching emergency vehicles and tow trucks stopped for an emergency on the side of the road.
Wailuku resident Andrea Maniago, who has shared her story of losing her 16-year-old son in a car crash three years ago, was recognized as a youth leader and victim advocate. She received a volunteer award.
"We could not do our job if we didn't have you by our side," Abigail Nickell, executive director of MADD Hawaii, told the award recipients at the luncheon.
Assistant Chief Victor Ramos thanked MADD and sponsor Maui Toyota for recognizing the work done by officers.
"They know they have a direct impact on saving lives. There aren't many cases where you can say that, but OUI enforcement is one of those," Ramos said. "They're taking impaired people off the road, making it safer for everyone."
Arnds, who has been part of the DUI Task Force for two and a half of his six and a half years as a police officer, made the 133 arrests in a year when he was off work for about three months with a hamstring injury he suffered while making a DUI arrest.
Asked about his arrests the previous year, he said he made 260 impaired-driving arrests.
He said he is motivated by the thought that "maybe we can find these drivers before they crash."
Along with seeing more young drivers under the influence of painkillers and other prescription narcotics, Arnds said, he is stopping more vehicles for traffic or equipment violations and finding them operated by sober designated drivers.
"I'm seeing more people having designated drivers at 2 in the morning," Arnds said. "That's a positive."
He said he often comes across drunken drivers "when you least expect it."
One night, he was on patrol on Mokulele Highway when he arrived at a crash scene where a car had flipped over on the side of the road. Arnds was on his way to the hospital emergency room to check on the driver's sobriety when he saw a car in front of him swerving, then hitting and bouncing off the median as the car turned right from Mokulele onto Hansen Road.
Arnds arrested the driver for DUI, making it his second encounter with a drunken driver in a half-hour.
Hada, who has been a police officer for 15 years, said many newer police officers - including some recognized Tuesday - are doing DUI enforcement, increasing the number of arrests and hopefully helping reduce the number of traffic deaths.
Callers reporting suspected impaired drivers also have helped, he said.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.