Officials predict 16 fatalities on Georgia roads

ALBANY -- New Year's is always a time when people try to glimpse the future. But one annual prediction is always grim in its gravity.

State public safety officials say they expect 16 people to die on the streets and highways of Georgia in the 78-hour New Year's holiday weekend that starts at 6 p.m. today. In the tabulation period ends at midnight Sunday, public safety officials also expect 1,004 injuries from 2,330 wrecks. Last year, a 102-hour New Year's holiday period saw 22 deaths.

The prediction follows a 78-hour Christmas death toll of 11 reported by Georgia Department of Public Safety officials, along with 2,166 crashes and 503 injuries. Those numbers were better than state officials had expected. Department officials predicted earlier this month that there would 976 injuries and 18 fatalities in 2,226 wrecks over the Christmas holidays. Last year's Christmas holiday period, which also was 24 hours longer than this year's, had 24 deaths reported.

None of this year's Christmas holiday traffic fatalities was reported by the Albany Police Department, Dougherty County Police Department or the Dougherty County Sheriff's Office.

With safety in mind, Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul said his deputies will give rides home to drivers from about 10 p.m. tonight until 6 a.m. New Year's Day.

"We realize people will go out to parties and drink," Sproul said. "We want to give them a ride home if they need one."

The ride-home deal Sproul offers is simple. If you are partying in Dougherty County and you are impaired to drive, call (229) 431-3259.

A sheriff's deputy will arrive, secure your car or truck, and give you a ride home. You can retrieve your vehicle after you are sober.

"If a driver wants, we'll take his keys into the (sheriff's) office until they come in to pick them up," Sproul said. "It is all about keeping people who drink off the road."

The free ride applies to anyone in Albany or the county. If a driver in Dougherty County resides in another county and needs a ride home, it can be arranged.

"I remember picking up a driver who lived in Worth County," Sproul said. "We arranged for a Worth County deputy to meet us at the county line, and he took him home."

The Albany Police Department will not be issuing rides to drunk drivers, said Phyllis Banks, APD spokesperson. Worth County officials said they also will not be giving free rides to over-indulging party-goers tonight.

A monthlong Georgia State Patrol crackdown on impaired drivers continues with road checks, concentrated patrols and high-visibility patrols through the holiday weekend. Local police are following suit.

Banks said APD will continue setting up road checks and selective enforcement throughout the holiday.

"Officers' shifts will also overlap, maintaining an extra prescence on the streets during this time," she said. "Shifts have been overlapping since before Christmas and will continue."

"We are more visible out there at holidays because we know there are more people drinking and driving," said Dougherty County Police Lt. Tom Jackson. "It is just like Wal-Mart putting more cashiers on when they know they will have more customers. We know we will be busier at

the holidays."

Staff writer Ricki Barker contributed to this report.