WILKES-BARRE — “Operation nighthawk,” a two-day state police driving under the influence training and enforcement program, kicked off on Friday, netting a significant number of DUI and other arrests.
On Saturday night, about 50 officers from the state police as well as some local municipalities met at the Luzerne County Emergency Management Agency on Water Street in Wilkes-Barre to review the results of the operation, share ideas and learn about new technologies for helping to test DUI drivers.
Capt. James Degnan, head of the state police troop P in Wyoming, said more than 100 citations were issued on Friday night alone as the result of the “saturation” of Luzerne County.
More than 25 DUI offenders and three wanted felons were nabbed, he said. A long list of other driving citations resulting from operator error including texting while driving were issued, he added.
“It was a good night for Luzerne County,” Degnan said.
He emphasized that “operation nighthawk” focuses on improving safety for the citizens of Luzerne County.
“We really wish the DUI drivers just called taxicabs,” Degnan said.
In comparison with other counties in Pennsylvania, Luzerne County is not above the averages for DUIs, however, a persistent challenge is faced by local police to keep the roads safe, he added.
Family members of Trooper Kenton Iwaniec, a 24-year-old who was killed on his way home from work in 2008 when hit head-on by a drunken driver in Chester County, attended Saturday’s meeting to discuss ways to help raise awareness.
“The DUI is a totally preventable crime,” said Acacia Houck, of Scotdale, Pa., the late trooper’s sister. His parents, Ken and Debby Iwaniec, of Ligionier, Pa., were also in attendance.
The family started the Trooper Iwaniec Foundation to help law enforcement agencies and schools all over the state get the word out about the dangers of driving drunk.
“We have to change the attitudes of drivers,” Houck said. “They need to understand they are impaired after the first drink and that their car can become a weapon of destruction,” she said.
“Drivers need to make smart choices,” she said.
The foundation raises about $100,000 each year and uses that money to take its message out to the public, she said. It also donates portable breathalyzers valued at up to $700 each to police departments and other law enforcement agencies to help them deal with drunken vehicle operators, Houck said.
“We are doing this as part of his (Iwaniec’s) legacy. He died while trying to keep families safe on the road,” she said.