SAN DIEGO (CBS 8/CNS) - The summer of 2015 has seen a spike in fatal drunk driving accidents with nearly a dozen people killed in the last few months.
San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis calls it the “Summer of Shame.” On Tuesday, she joined several local law enforcement agencies and Mothers Against Drunk Driving in an attempt to raise awareness about the epidemic.
"The conduct of the individuals who caused these crashes is horrific," she said. "We've had drunks driving the wrong way on the highway, individuals consuming alcohol for hours before getting behind the wheel and a young mother driving with her children in the car while using drugs. Tragically, lives have been lost because of these preventable crimes, which should serve as a wake-up call to anyone even thinking about driving under the influence."
According to the DA, 11 people have been killed in DUI crashes since May in San Diego County. Today, a 20-year-old male made his first court appearance where he is accused of driving under the influence and crashing his car on Friars road, killing his two female passengers. In May, a 21-year-old man drove the wrong way on I-15 in Scripps Ranch, hitting and killing two family members. Another fatal DUI crash happened in May when a Marine drove the wrong way on SR-163 north of I-8 and crashed head on into a Toyota Prius, killing two UCSD medical students and sending several others to the hospital.
Most of the offenders are men ages 20-25. Some of them are repeat offenders with prior DUI arrests. The DA launched a DUI homicide unit last year that has become so backlogged that additional resources are being called on to help with the cases.
"Think twice about it because if you kill someone, you will be facing a life-sentence," says San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
While the number of misdemeanor DUI's are down across the county this year, the number of people killed in DUI crashes are on the rise with 23 killed so far. In 2014, 17 people were killed in DUI crashes throughout the county.
Heading into the Labor Day weekend, officers will be out in force cracking down on suspected DUI drivers through added sobriety checkpoints and a "no tolerance" approach to drunken driving.
"DUI is a 100 percent preventable crime," said San Diego police Chief Shelley Zimmerman. "People make decisions every day regarding right and wrong. If you drink and make the terrible decision to drive, that decision may cost you more than a DUI. It might cost you your life or the life of another."
Zimmerman urged people to have a plan if they go out and drink, selecting a designated driver ahead of time.
Craig Carter, president of the San Diego County Sheriffs and Police Chiefs Association, said citizens need to be aware and call 911 if they see an impaired driver.
"We need the public to step up," Carter said, urging people to call taxis or ride-hailing services and take keys from someone who has been drinking.
Zimmerman outlined a couple of programs being used in San Diego, including one where people coming out of a bar can blow into a breathalyzer to determine their blood-alcohol content.