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On patrol: Utah Highway Trooper searches for DUIs

LAYTON — The sign affixed to the metal and plastic partition that separates Utah Highway Patrol Cpl. Lisa Steed from the people she arrests is sobering.

From the sign, Jaqueline "Jacqui" Saburido stares mutely at arrestees. A black hat covers her bald, burned head. Scar tissue stretches tautly across the socket where her left eye should be. Her nose is melted away.

"Not everyone who gets hit by a drunk driver dies," reads the laminated sign that also features a pre-crash photo of Saburido, a pretty woman with long, dark hair and a flawless smile.

Steed is committed to preventing what happened to Saburido from happening to others by taking as many impaired drivers as possible off Utah's road. For 2009 alone — her first year assigned to the highway patrol's DUI squad — she is credited with what's believed to be a state-record 400 DUI arrests.

By comparison, the next closest trooper on the squad made 168 arrests.

"You don't know what the consequences would have been if they kept driving down the road," Steed says, referring to the people she spends her 10-hour shifts diligently searching for and arresting.

For her work in 2009, the 71/2-year UHP veteran was recently honored at the state Capitol by the members of the House and Senate. She's also drawn praise from UHP Lt. Steve Winward, who has commanded the DUI squad since August.

"She's just really driven. She's got an intrinsic motivation, that internal drive," he said. "With her training and experience, it's second nature for her to find these people who are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol."

The nine troopers, two sergeants and one lieutenant who comprise the squad spend much of their time patrolling city streets in an effort to find impaired drivers before they reach state highways where the likelihood of a crash increases. They regularly work nights and weekends and travel around Utah to patrol during special events like the annual Jeep Safari in Moab or for targeted DUI blitzes.

It was Steed's 214 DUI arrests in 2008, while working as a trooper in Davis County, that earned her an invitation to join the squad. And she's having another solid year, racking up 44 DUI arrests so far in 2010, again more than twice as many as the next closest trooper.

Steed, 32, says she always watches for the obvious signs that a driver might be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, like a failure to stay in their travel lane. But most of her stops that end with a DUI arrest come as a result of a minor traffic or equipment violation.

"It's a numbers game," she says, noting that for every 10 drivers she stops for having a burned-out headlight or rolling through a stop sign, one is driving impaired.

When the driver of a Volkswagen bus in front of Steed fails to use his turn signal, the corporal is quick to pull him over. She smells the odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle, which is occupied by six teenage boys, and asks about the smell. The teens tell her they just smoked the drug at a nearby park in Layton.

Steed, a trained drug recognition expert, has the 17-year-old driver step from the bus. After running him through a brief series of tests, Steed calmly handcuffs the teen and tells him he's under arrest for driving under the influence of marijuana.

"She's got a knack for it," says trooper Jason Sagers, one of the four troopers assigned to Davis County who later helps Steed search the five remaining teens and the bus.

They find a small bag of marijauna inside the vehicle. They also discover a marijuana bong shoved down the front of one teen's pants. He's issued a citation before being released to his parents. The other four teens are simply released to their parents with a verbal warning, though one boy's mother calls Steed later in the evening to admit that her son had used a false name, and she'd gone along with it.

The driver and the teen who provided a false name are booked into the Farmington Bay Youth Center.

"A lot of it is just practice, doing it so many years," Steed said shortly before stopping the VW bus. "It's a lot of hard work, but you make a ton of stops, and you're going to run into them."

She admits to being saddened by the fact that impaired driving continues to be a such a grave problem in Utah. It would be nice, she says, to "go out this year, work as hard as I did last year and make fewer arrests."

"But the way the year has started, I don't think it's going to change," she says. "It's not discouraging. It just makes me want to work harder."

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