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Effort Under Way to Reduce Hispanic Drunken Driving

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Hispanic drivers in North Carolina are more likely to get into a drunk driving wreck than any other ethnic or racial group.

A recent study shows 7 percent of Hispanic drivers involved in crashes in 2005 were intoxicated, compared with 4 percent of Native Americans, 2 percent of whites and 2 percent of blacks. On any given weekend in Wake County, roughly one-third of people arrested for driving while intoxicated are Hispanic.

Stacy Koon lost her mother and best friend five months ago in an alcohol-involved wreck on Highway 86 in Hillsborough.

"She just had the best way of making me feel like the best mom and most wonderful daughter in the world," said Koon.

Isael Medrano, an illegal alien, was driving drunk when he hit 62-year-old Faye Coleman head-on.

"First of all, he was drunk. Secondly, he wasn't supposed to be in this country," said Koon. "And he killed my mom."

In 2005, there were 76,000 DWI arrests in North Carolina. Eighteen percent were Hispanics, even though they make up less than 10 percent of the state's population. And drinking and driving is the No. 1 killer of Hispanics.

But there is now a statewide initiative to turn these troubling statistics around. The Hispanic community will launch its own effort to keep Hispanics from driving drunk.

"We want to concentrate on telling Latinos not to drink and drive," said Tony Asion, director of public safety for El Pueblo. "We feel a responsibility to educate and curtail these numbers."

El Pueblo unveiled its new advertising campaign on Wednesday. The ads are designed to educate Hispanics about the consequences of drinking and driving.

The hope is that with education, others can be spared the pain Koon has had to endure.

"No one can replace your mom, no one loves you more than your mom," said Koon.

Community leaders said the reason there are so many DWI cases involving Latinos is because of cultural differences and a limited understanding of U.S. laws.

In addition to the series of ads, the Highway Patrol will also being doing additional enforcement to try and crack down on the problem.


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