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'It will haunt you for the rest of your life,' doctor warns of fatal DUI crashes

Utah Highway Patrol trooper Geri Tew speaks with a motorist after pulling them over for using a cellphone while driving.
Utah Highway Patrol trooper Geri Tew speaks with a motorist after pulling them over for using a cellphone while driving on I-15 near Lehi on Thursday, April 8, 2021. On Thursday, the UHP kicked off its annual holiday campaign encouraging motorists not to drink and drive. The theme of this year’s campaign is: Every sip has a consequence.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Dr. Wing Province, the medical director and chief medical officer at Park City Hospital, remembers the night four college-age women ran a stop sign after attending a party and smashed into an elderly couple who had just been out to dinner.

The women were not seriously injured and were taking selfies and joking with each other while waiting to be seen by the doctor.

In another part of the hospital, Province had to tell "Ed" that his "sweetheart of 50 years had passed away."

The husband, whom Province called Ed to protect his real identity, had taken his wife on a date every Friday night since he met her five decades ago. On this Friday night, following dinner, the car with the four women, who had just left a party where alcohol was served, ran a stop sign and smashed into the passenger side of Ed's vehicle.

In addition to his wife suffering fatal injuries, Ed suffered a skull fracture, a broken hip and a broken pelvis.

When one of the fathers of the women arrived at the hospital and was told what had happened, Province said hospital staff could hear him "raise his voice" at his daughter as he informed her what she and her friends had done.

At that point, Province said there was a "drastic change" in the women's demeanors, going from joking to being very serious and crying. One woman later told Province she had "deep, deep regret" for the rest of her life knowing she had killed someone.

"It will haunt you for the rest of your life, and that kind of guilt is not something you want to carry the rest of your life," Province said.

On Thursday, the Utah Highway Patrol announced its annual holiday campaign encouraging motorists not to drink and drive. The theme of this year's campaign is: Every sip has a consequence.

"As soon as you start drinking, impairment starts," said UHP Col. Michael Rapich.

Rapich said this December marks the 30th holiday season that he has been involved in getting impaired drivers off the road and making sure people get home safely. He said he quickly realized early in his career that the number of impaired driving arrests goes up around Christmas and New Year's.

But Rapich said even for a veteran law enforcer like himself, some of the state's recent statistics for the past fiscal year startled him. Troopers arrested about 10,600 intoxicated drivers, or an average of 29 a day, he said. More than 1,900 times an impaired driver was involved in a crash and of those, 56 people were killed.

"These aren't just statistics — these are bad decisions that result in violent and horrible and tragic results," he said.

Rapich said this year, the UHP is not only stressing to motorists to not drink and drive to keep people safe, but he wants the public to understand both the legal and emotional consequences that come with being involved in a fatal crash.

"You don't get over that. Your life is never the same," he said.

That's why troopers are trying to prevent "a single bad decision" of getting behind the wheel after drinking.

As part of this year's campaign kickoff, Province was asked to share some of his experiences from working in emergency rooms across the country. He said very rarely do crashes involving impaired drivers turn out well.

"I can tell you very graphically what brain matter looks like, what the inside of a chest looks like," he said, noting that even if a person is not killed, they will suffer permanent injuries.

Province also talked about the impact drunk driving crashes have on health care workers, especially around the holiday season when they have to inform family members that a loved one has died.

"It has a toll on each of us to see how easily life can be taken by such an irresponsible act," he said.

Province said many people are "way overconfident in their ability to drive impaired." Many times, an impaired person is in the hospital claiming they're not drunk, and nurses have to stand by to catch them as they attempt to stand up and walk, he said.

"That's just with walking. Imagine a complex task like driving a vehicle," he said.

Province also warned about the dangers of mixing alcohol and medications. He said since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, health care workers have seen an increase in mental health needs as well as people taking medications for chronic pain issues. He warned that one drink plus one pill "does not equal two when it comes to substances."

Rather, a little bit of alcohol combined with a little bit of controlled substances will equal "significant impairment," Province said.

As is tradition with the holiday enforcement campaign, extra troopers will be on Utah's freeways for all of December looking for impaired drivers, the UHP stated.