LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC — When Lexington County bar patrons reach the bottom of their pints this holiday season, they might start seeing messages from the sheriff’s department staring back up at them.
That’s because the department announced Thursday that it will be giving out toolkits full of coasters, buttons, logbooks and signs to county restaurants and bars to help prevent alcohol over-serving and the drunk driving that goes with it.
The initiative comes about three months after the sheriff said he was going to crack down on bars and restaurants who let patrons drive after a long night of drinking.
“Drunk driving is not a problem solved by law enforcement alone,” said Lexington County Sheriff James Metts.
So far this year, alcohol has played a role in 27 of the county’s 45 traffic fatalities, according to the Community Action for a Safer Tomorrow (CAST) DUI task force, an organization comprised of Lexington County law enforcement agencies and community organizations.
Metts said his officers are doing everything they can to prevent deaths caused by drinking and driving —1,232 DUI arrests have been made in Lexington County this year — but the sheriff’s department needs help from the places in the county that serve alcohol.
Initially, about 30 kits will be given out to Lexington County bars and restaurants, according to Caroline Humphries, coordinator of CAST task force. Each kit contains coasters, buttons, signs and window decals with anti-drunk driving messages, a log book so managers can keep track of alcohol-related incidents at their businesses and guidebooks for checking IDs and preventing alcohol over-serving.
Bars and restaurants don’t have to use the kits, Metts said, but the department will continue to crack down on businesses who over-serve alcohol.
The department has started keeping track of where drunk drivers got their last drink and is increasing patrols and checkpoints in areas in the southern and western portions of the county near some businesses that have been known to over-serve patrons.
Metts said the department also will ask the state Revenue Department not to renew the liquor licenses for bars and restaurants that continually over-serve customers.
“That’s not a threat,” Metts said. “It’s a promise.”
Rick Ward works at Fatz Cafe in Lexington. Servers at his restaurant regularly have to grapple with patrons who have had too much to drink, but he said he’d rather turn someone away than contribute to a wreck involving a drunk driver.
He remembered one incident in which a customer came into the restaurant drunk and got upset when bartenders wouldn’t serve him a drink. Ward offered him a ride home, but the man wouldn’t calm down until after he called police.
“They dealt with that gentlemen and he was no longer belligerent,” Ward joked.
He said kits the department is handing out should help unite restaurants and bars against over-serving alcohol.
“We have to be together on this,” he said. “That’s why I’m so excited about the toolkits.”
Reach Price at (803) 771-8376.