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TABC hosts meeting with Coastal Bend businesses to try to limit drunk drivers

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Posted at 12:12 PM, May 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-11 17:00:53-04

It's been nearly three months since KRIS 6 News' first facing danger special aired, and a lot has changed in that time. It all began with this jarring statistic.

In the span of seven years from 2015-2022, 11 wrong-way crashes occurred on the harbor bridge. Those crashes resulted in eight deaths, while 11 people were injured.

That prompted us to investigate why this was happening, and what could be done to save lives.

This led us to evenquestion the governor about the situation on the bridge.

The day after that conversation, changes were made and law enforcement has reported no new wrong way drivers on the harbor bridge.

Another thing to come out of our reporting was the formation of a wrong-way task force.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission is part of that task force.

A meeting was held Wednesday morning by TABC with local bar owners to go over safe practices and what they should be looking out for to ensure they don't over serve.

For some bar owners, this was a refresher course. For others it was the chance to touch base with TABC agents and find out what they can do to further educate their staff to reduce not only over serving, but the potential for intoxicated drivers to get behind the wheel.

"It's a good refresher, a good reminder of what can happen. It's a good reminder of the battles and the challenges that we face every day being in this industry," House of Rock owner Casey Lain said.

Our reports show that the majority of wrong way crashes over the harbor bridge involved alcohol, and we are told the most recent double-fatal crash had the driver coming directly from a company party at a local bar.

A special investigative arm of TABC known as their TRACE unit is just finishing up their report on that incident, but spoke to us on the process they take once a fatal crash is reported that links to an establishment that serves alcohol.

The TRACE unit "is responsible for investigating businesses suspected of selling or serving alcohol to people accused of being involved in alcohol-related incidents, such as assault or drunken driving fatalities. Businesses found to have violated the state's alcohol laws could be required to suspend alcohol sales or pay a fine."

"I ask for receipts, I ask for policies, I ask for employee contacts, and I ask for anything that I'm gonna need to be able to either interview or talk to witnesses that were at the bar at that time," Agent Leonor Garzas, with TABC's TRACE unit said.

TABC officials wanted bar owners to know that agents are out there conducting both public and undercover operations to ensure compliance.

However, they did tell KRIS 6 while the number of applications for liquor licenses has increased by over 10,000 statewide, their local presence has been reduced from around a dozen agents to two.

"We had to make very tough financial decisions for the agency as our budget became more constrained. That resulted in a number of offices including the Corpus Christi office being closed," Victor Kuykendoll, Executive Chief Enforcement for TABC said.

TABC officials told KRIS 6 News that they have still been able to perform over 700 inspections in the last year of the over 880 businesses that sell or distribute alcohol in Nueces County.

However, they said it needs to be a group effort by businesses, law enforcement and the public to make real change on the road.

"We need the industry's help, to help address this issue to make sure they are helping to intervene with somebody that is intoxicated whether or not they actually served that person at that point or they just walked into their door already intoxicated from somewhere else or from the house," Kuykendoll said.

"If you see somebody that shows any signs of intoxication or anything like that, you need to think of 'is my son or daughter on that road?'" Garza said.

Agents with TABC told 6 Investigates that enforcement and bars complying with alcohol laws are just parts of what can be done to combat further wrong way drivers. But, with everyone's help, the hope is to at least reduce the amount of drunk drivers on our roadways.

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