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Nevada County wrecks add to recent spike in DUI arrests

Christopher Rosacker
Staff Writer
California Highway Patrol car
John Hart | The Union

Continuing what appears to be a trend of increased intoxicated driver citations, at least two weekend incidents that resulted in injuries were attributed to alleged drunken drivers, and another was reported to narrowly miss emergency personnel responding to a separate intoxication-related collision.

“It’s one of the busiest months I’ve seen,” said Officer Justin Barnthouse, who has been with the Grass Valley California Highway Patrol for five years.

The weekend’s reported drunken driving incidents came just one week after five separate allegedly intoxicated drivers were apprehended in the span of one hour in a construction zone on Highway 49 in Grass Valley.

“You generally get five to 10 (driving under the influence incidents) a month on a standard graveyard shift. This month we’ve had about 16,” Barnthouse said. “It seems pretty excessive.”

Nevada City resident Jeffrey Chambers, 55, remained in the Nevada County jail Monday morning stemming from a Friday incident where he is alleged to have been intoxicated and involved in a collision that injured all four people involved, including a 6-year-old girl, according to CHP Officer Greg Tassone’s report.

At around 9 p.m. Friday, Chambers was traveling eastbound on Highway 20 in his 1987 Jeep Comanche, when he reportedly made a left turn on Conservation Road in front of a westbound 2005 Chevrolet Trailblazer, according to the CHP.

Driven by Carson City, Nev., resident Valerie Melendez, 53, the Trailblazer broad-sided the right side of the Jeep, overturned and came to rest upside down in a culvert on the north side of the road, while the Jeep remained on its wheels, despite spinning out into the same culvert, the CHP reported.

When fire and medical personnel responded to the scene in the Tahoe National Forest outside Nevada City, both Chambers and Melendez, and her two passengers, were able to exit their vehicles, the report stated. Melendez and a 6-year-old passenger suffered minor injuries and were transported by ambulance to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. However, 27-year-old Eric Melendez suffered moderate head injuries and was flown by a CalStar helicopter to Sutter Roseville Hospital, where he was treated and released by Monday morning, said a hospital spokesman.

Chambers, who suffered a minor head contusion, was evaluated at Sierra Nevada Memorial and subsequently transported to the Nevada County jail, which listed the Nevada City man as booked Saturday on a felony charge of intoxicated driving causing bodily injury. While CHP is handling the ongoing investigation, the agency determined that alcohol was a factor.

Chambers, who listed his occupation as a custodian, was being held in lieu of $75,000 bail at the county jail as of press time Monday.

As personnel responded to the incident, the roadway remained open with one-way traffic control while the scene was being cleared and controlled. However, during that traffic control, an unrelated eastbound vehicle drove through the cordoned-off scene at a high speed, narrowly missing a tow truck and a firefighter in the roadway, CHP reported.

Davis resident Daniel Lemus, 34, was subsequently arrested by CHP on the misdemeanor charge of driving intoxicated. By Monday morning, Lemus had posted $5,000 bail and been released from the county jail, according to its website.

“It’s imperative that people need to pay better attention to lights,” Barnthouse said. “Whether it’s (California Department of Transportation) lights, red and blue or whatever. Pay attention, slow down and drive a little safer.”

Little more than 24 hours later, on Saturday, a 17-year-old male lost control of his vehicle outside Nevada City and smashed head-on into a tree. He was later booked into the county juvenile detention center after treatment for his moderate wounds on a charge of intoxicated driving.

At approximately 9:15 p.m., the Penn Valley juvenile driver was headed eastbound on Banner Lava Cap Road, reportedly speeding and passing motorists over double yellow lines. The driver, who had no occupants in his vehicle, reportedly failed to navigate a left curve and ran off the road, colliding into a large pine tree.

CHP officers responded to the scene, along with fire department and emergency medical personnel and one-way traffic control was instituted on Banner Lava Cap Road for approximately 90 minutes while crews worked at the scene and removed the vehicle from the tree.

Because the driver was injured, no on-scene blood-alcohol tests were administered, Barnthouse said, and the juvenile’s intoxication level will be determined pending the results of laboratory analysis of blood samples.

The blood-alcohol-content levels of the other two drivers arrested over the weekend were not released to the press when requested Monday.

The weekend’s DUI incidents came two months after two CHP officers escaped injury, while arresting an allegedly intoxicated driver, when an unrelated reported intoxicated driver crashed into the officers’ cruisers outside Nevada City on Highway 49.

“It makes us more diligent of what we are doing out there,” Barnthouse said. “We are trained to always watch traffic coming at us.”

While there has been a rash of recent incidents in which officers investigated one intoxicated driver arrest after another, Barnthouse said that they are lucky that no emergency personnel have been hurt by impaired drivers.

“The public can help with that by making calls when they think there is an impaired driver,” Barnthouse said. “If they are impaired, we will respond.”

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email crosacker@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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