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MADD chapter honors local CHP Officer Hector Tavares

March 29, 2001|By KELLY GRANT, Staff Writer

Though he'll tell you he's just doing his job, California Highway Patrol Officer Hector Tavares is considered an outstanding DUI officer by the San Diego chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Tavares, 36, was awarded the honor March 23 for, according to the plaque, contributing to MADD's mission of stopping drunken driving, supporting the victims and preventing underage drinking.

For Tavares, it's mostly about saving lives.

Many people think officers are all about making arrests, said Tavares, who works in the Highway Patrol's El Centro sector.

"It's not my intent to arrest but to save lives," he said.

"The satisfaction doesn't come from arresting people but in saving his (the drunken driver's) life or the lives of others who might get in his way," Tavares said.

Tavares finds satisfaction in knowing he's made a difference in his four-and-a-half-year career with the CHP.

While he doesn't work specifically in DUI prevention, looking for impaired drivers is part of Tavares' and every other Highway Patrol officer's job.

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In 2000, Tavares worked mostly the graveyard shift, covering roads throughout the county. He estimates he made an average of five DUI arrests each month, or anywhere from 50 to 60 that year.

"I've responded to accidents where drivers have been under the influence and I've seen the devastation caused by drivers who've been drinking," Tavares said.

One accident that sticks in Tavares' mind was a collision in which a drunken driver ran a stop sign and hit a vehicle, killing three people. Two of those who died were brothers on their way home from working overtime to raise enough money to buy a Mother's Day gift and fund a carne asada dinner for their mom.

For Tavares, saving lives isn't limited to keeping people breathing.

Tavares said he often warns motorists who have been drinking but aren't legally drunk of the life-altering effects a DUI conviction can carry.

Everything from a criminal record to loss of a driver's license will negatively impact a convicted drunken driver.

"It closes off so many opportunities," Tavares said.

The San Diego County chapter of MADD has been giving out the awards for 13 years as a way of honoring law enforcement officials for making DUI arrests a priority.

"MADD does this really to say thank you," said Bonnie Helander, executive director of the San Diego chapter of MADD.

"We think that stopping the problem of drunk driving is a partnership with law enforcement," Helander said.

Because Imperial County doesn't have a MADD chapter, the San Diego chapter has extended some of its efforts into this county.

For 2000, 32 officers from law enforcement agencies across San Diego County, including Tavares in the El Centro Highway Patrol sector, received the DUI officer of the year award.

Staff Writer Kelly Grant can be reached at 337-3441.

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