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Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
UHP Sgt. Jed Jorgenson leads a motorist to an alcohol testing facility after the motorist was pulled over on State Street.

MURRAY — During the kickoff to a DUI blitz by the Utah Highway Patrol, nine troopers arrested seven motorists who showed signs of intoxication late Saturday and early Sunday.

They also arrested two people who have alcohol-restricted licenses, meaning they had prior DUI convictions and are not allowed to have detectable amounts of alcohol in their systems while driving. An impaired minor was also arrested.

The arrests are just the first to take place leading up to one of the biggest holidays for drinking and driving.

Between 2001 and 2005, the New Year's holiday is the deadliest part of December when it comes to crashes involving an impaired driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Nationwide, an average of 54 people died each day during the New Year's holiday during the five-year period, compared to 45 deaths a day around Christmas and 33 deaths a day during the rest of December.

To prevent such deaths in Utah this year, UHP troopers will be out in force during the late hours tonight with plans to nab drinking partygoers who get behind the wheel.

The 25 troopers who will take on various overtime shifts to conduct the DUI blitz along the Wasatch Front have their time paid for from a donation by the New Car Dealers of Utah, formerly known as the Utah Auto Dealers Association.

Craig Bickmore, executive director of the 80-year-old association, said Utah is lucky to have the UHP and thanked troopers Saturday night for their work.

UHP Lt. Rich Christianson said a similar blitz on Dec. 14 netted 18 arrests — one for each trooper working that night.

Trooper Brandon Whitehead spent a couple of hours Saturday night driving a Deseret Morning News reporter around Salt Lake-area bars, and though various traffic stops yielded no DUI busts, Whitehead was confident things would pick up later in the night.

Whitehead, who belongs to the UHP's DUI squad, said his average arrest happens at 1:30 a.m., shortly after the bars have their last call.

Tonight, Whitehead's fellow troopers will be out again, patrolling the bars and looking for impaired drivers.

He has a word of advice for those who will be pulled over tonight: If you're impaired and driving, you can count on being cited because it's illegal.

Some people think officers should spend their time catching "real" criminals, he says, adding that some people call driving under the influence a "victimless" crime.

But not when there's a fatal crash involving that driver, Whitehead says, and he or a fellow trooper is faced with making a long walk to the victim's home to tell the victim's family he's never coming home again.

"The mindset is that it always happens to someone else," he said, so he's glad to give out DUI citations to impaired drivers.

"If you can make them think, if nothing else, they might get a DUI out of it, it's worth its weight in gold," Whitehead said.

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