Credit: SBPD

Drunk driving during the holidays has been a long-standing issue — with more people out on the roads, visiting friends and family, shopping, or celebrating, there is a higher risk of drivers getting behind the wheel while under the influence.

In the City of Santa Barbara, more than 300 accidents in relation to driving under the influence occurred between 2019 and November 2021, with 2019 and 2021 seeing the most collisions linked to drunk driving. Three were fatal accidents, and two of them happened last month. The Santa Barbara Police Department issued a warning this year for drivers to have a plan for getting home that involves a designated sober driver. The department placed additional officers around town during the two weeks between November 20 and December 14, to look out for drivers suspected of being under the influence of alcohol and other substances. “Prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, and marijuana can also impair, especially in combination with alcohol and other drugs,” said Santa Barbara Police Department Public Information Officer Sergeant Ethan Ragsdale in a press release.

One of the most recent drunk-driving fatalities reported in Santa Barbara was 71-year-old Steven Carlson, a retired UC Santa Barbara administrator who was killed on November 14 after colliding head-on with a driver under the influence with no headlights on who had veered into Carlson’s lane. The other recent fatality was 78-year-old Santa Barbara resident Kenneth Warfield Sterling, who was riding his motorcycle near Ortega Park when he was struck from behind by a drunk driver and launched more than 80 feet into the roadway. In both incidents, the drivers responsible survived the collisions and were charged with vehicular manslaughter. 

Just outside of Santa Barbara, on Cathedral Oaks Road in Goleta, a drunk driver struck two people in a vehicle on October 26, 2021, sending their car spinning before crashing into other vehicles parked on the street and killing the driver, Gilberto Arteaga-Gutierrez, 40, of Santa Barbara, and the passenger, Silvia Velasco, 45, of Lompoc. On that same road a year earlier, Adolfo Corral and his wife, Mary Jane Beccera Corral, both 44, were killed by a drunk driver. Both were mourned deeply by their family and communities in education, Adolfo serving at Santa Barbara City College for many years, and Mary Jane serving as a computer specialist at a Goleta Elementary School.

The seemingly large increase in fatal collisions over the last two years might be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, there were 36,096 people killed in fatal traffic collisions nationally, and 10,142 were attributed to driving under the influence. Once the pandemic began, there was an initial increase of traffic collisions; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that 38,680 people died in motor traffic collisions in 2020, the highest projected number of fatalities since 2007. From January to June 2021, the numbers rose even further, with NHTSA reporting an 18 percent increase of more than 20,000 fatalities reported during those months. 

The most recent fatal collision in Santa Barbara occurred on Shoreline Drive on December 11, and it has not been determined if alcohol or drugs were a contributing factor. The driver, 27-year-old Santa Barbara resident Luis Najera, was driving with a passenger when he crashed into a large palm tree. The passenger was wearing a seatbelt at the time and sustained severe injuries. Najera was not wearing a seatbelt and died hours after the collision. Najera’s family has created a GoFundMe for funeral and memorial expenses. 

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