YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Year after year, Elmwood Park Police Officer Michael Prelich has been a statewide leader in making DWI arrests, and this morning he was honored during an emotional ceremony in Trenton that featured loved ones of those killed by drunk and impaired drivers.
Prelich is consistently in the 70s and 80s in DWI arrests each year. State officials — and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers — have frequently lauded him for his dedication and commitment to making the roads safer.
He joined dozens of other officers from all of New Jersey’s counties and NJ State Police troopers in being honored at the Trenton War Memorial Building.
But the true power of the event was in the words of those who suffered unspeakable loss. They included Assemblyman Nelson Albano (1st District-Cumberland), whose 19-year-old son, Michael, was killed by a drunk driver in 2001.
Each family was escorted by one of the recognized officers.
Representing the nearly 10,000 lives lost each year nationwide to impaired driving, the families displayed photos of their loved ones and lit candles to commemorate their lives.
“Today is a solemn day, but it is also a day to remember those loved ones who were taken from you by a drunk or impaired driver,” Attorney Jeffrey General S. Chiesa told them.
“Those of us who have not experienced what you have can’t begin to imagine your pain, or comprehend the void left in your lives by this tragedy,” he said. “But my hope for this gathering is that it offers something meaningful to take with you when you leave.
“Hopefully, this gathering will provide you with positive energy – the encouragement of hearing from others like yourselves, and perhaps, the reinvigoration of your advocacy on this vital issue,” Chiesa said.
Alcohol consistently has been involved in a full quarter of all crash fatalities in New Jersey, state authorities said.
And although the numbers dropped somewhat last year from 2011, state Division of Highway Traffic Safety Acting Director Gary Poedubicky said his agency is working aggressively to make the trend stick.
“Enforcement and education are tremendously important to combating this problem,” Poedubicky said. “On the enforcement side, we use our ‘Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over’ drunk driving mobilizations, saturation patrols and checkpoints, as well as the efforts of Drug Recognition Evaluators.
“For education, we constantly remind the public that even one drink is too many to drive,” he added. “That’s the only way to ensure everyone is safe and sober on the roadways.”
Last year, officers in New Jersey made more than 30,000 DWI arrests in the state. The leader was Pennsauken Township Officer Joe Kuchmek, of Camden County, with 86.
To give you some idea of Prelich’s dedication: In 2010, the Elmwood Park veteran wrote a total of wrote 3,517 summonses — an average of nearly 10 a day if you divide by 365 — while also answering calls for service in the 2.8-square-mile town known decades ago as East Paterson.
Although there are barely more than 20,000 residents in Elmwood Park, it’s a busy town, with Routes 4, 46 and 80, as well as the Garden State Parkway, running through it. .
Police in Elmwood Park have put more than 1,000 roving DWI patrols on the roads over the past several years, while staffing numerous checkpoints and participating in the national “Over the Limit, Under Arrest” campaigns.
The aim, Prelich said, isn‘t only to catch and prosecute offenders — but also to make a loud enough noise so people think twice before they make a decision that could kill them or someone else.
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