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SIGONELLA, Sicily — Sigonella bases are setting up random checkpoints to catch people driving under the influence.

The checkpoints, to begin in a couple of weeks, are coming at a good time, said Senior Chief Petty Officer Charles Mogle, a master-at-arms. Sigonella personnel have gotten as many DUIs in the past seven months as they did in all of 2002.

“Unfortunately, right now, if everything projects out, we’re at about a 15 percent increase on DUIs this year,” said Mogle, 36, from Tiffin, Ohio.

Thirty-five people were caught driving under the influence from Jan. 1 to Aug. 11.

“In the past, we had heightened force protection conditions,” Mogle said. “Maybe since we’re not having these restrictions at the gate, people feel like there’s less control so they won’t get caught.”

He and other base personnel thought the number would decrease this year, since the Italian government lowered the legal blood-alcohol content from .08 to .05 in June 2002. When military personnel test a suspected drunken driver, the limit they follow is .10, on and off base. All 35 DUIs this year were issued by military police, Mogle said.

“[The checkpoints] are something we’ve been planning for a long time,” Mogle said. “It’s actually going to come at a really good time. It’s not a knee-jerk reaction [to the increase in DUIs].”

If guards detect the odor of alcohol, they’ll conduct a field sobriety test. A suspected drunken driver undergoes a blood test at the hospital.

The base also is trying to decrease the number of traffic accidents. There were 617 in 2001, 664 in 2002. From Jan. 1 to Aug. 11 this year, there were 486 accidents.

“My feeling is that a lot of them have to do with the driving habits Americans have; they try to adapt the same aggressive style Italians have,” said Senior Chief Edward Campbell, 42, operations officer for the Security Department.

Base signs warn drivers to wear seat belts and slow down, and there are regular safety stand-downs. Sailors 26 and younger are required to take driver improvement training, said April Slater, occupational safety and health specialist for the Safety Office.

“If they would slow down, it could cut accidents in half,” said Slater, 52, from Pearl City, Hawaii.

Many accidents occur on side roads between the bases, where the speed limit is 60 kph. “Most of the time they’re doing closer to 100,” she said.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Mathis Young was one of 126 base personnel hurt in accidents last year. The boatswain’s mate was in the back seat of a friend’s car after a night at the bars.

“I hadn’t noticed him drinking very much throughout the night,” said Young, 28, a security guard at Nescemi. “There was really no doubt in my mind he could drive OK.”

Young said the driver accelerated while approaching a curve. The car hit a curb, launching the vehicle into the air. It hit a tree and flipped. While the two people in the front had minor injuries, Young was screaming in the back seat.

The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native underwent exploratory surgery. Surgeons removed 45 centimeters of his small intestine, which was crushed by his seat belt.

But Young said if the men hadn’t been wearing seat belts, “… I don’t think any of us would’ve been alive.”

Young couldn’t eat or drink for a painful few weeks; a tube through his nose to his stomach pumped out fluids. He said the driver, who has since transferred, went to captain’s mast for drinking and driving.

“I should have known better, but at the same time I thought he was OK to drive,” Young said. “But my judgment was a bit off, too.

“Always make sure you have someone who won’t drink any alcohol at all; have a designated driver.”

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