Tackling the drinking and driving problem in Williamsburg County is about to get a boost. The Williamsburg County Community Action for a Safer Tomorrow (CAST) Coalition, along with county law enforcement agencies held a press conference at Brown’s Bar-B-Que of Kingstree, where it was announced that the county was chosen to receive funding to assist in the prevention and reduction of DUI crashes and fatalities. According to CAST statistical data, in the three year period leading up to the award and development of the CAST Coalition, there were 215 crashes and 11 fatalities, all involving driving under the influence charges.
The CAST Program encompasses Williamsburg, Darlington, and Horry counties and is under the supervision of Donna Hancock. "The goal of CAST is not to put people in jail," said Hancock. "Rather, it is a project focused on making Williamsburg County roads safer for citizens. Hancock said strategies could include increased DUI arrests, revisiting local policies and ordinances, and changing community attitude. "A lot of it is going to be about changing community's attitude about DUI," said Hancock. "Just making it unacceptable to get behind the wheel of a car after you've been drinking." Hancock added that citizens couldn’t expect law enforcement to be the only player to make the program a success. "As long as we're all the spokes of the wheel are working together, that wheel will turn and be successful."
The funding will also allow for more visibility of law enforcement. South Carolina Highway Patrolman Stephen Gardner was one of a dozen patrolmen who attended the meeting. Gardner pointed to the statistics in his comments before a crowd that included local mayors, police chiefs, and CAST members. "This place has clearly been identified as having an alcohol related problem," said the 15 year veteran. "We've been doing a good job of writing tickets, working collisions, and locking people up but then there is the other side where you have to make a difference and that is public awareness. The CAST program allows us to do that."
Gardner added that highway patrol would collaborate with local law enforcement and the CAST coalition to see the project to fruition. "This is a great program and I look forward to everybody working together," said Gardner. "It allows all the agencies to work together and that's how we can be successful - through teamwork."
Qualifying for the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant is based upon need and population and as ranked on fatalities and underage drinking among other requirements. Nineteen grants were awarded at 16 locations. Funding will provide for training, equipment, education and help supplement overtime pay for saturation patrols and public safety check points. "The grant is not program based," said Hancock. "It is all about community partnerships and environmental prevention strategies." She also commended the stakeholders for their dedication and support. "Williamsburg is to be commended at this point where you are in the process," said Hancock. "It has been really nice to see the community partnerships that have come together to work on this." She added that while participating in national conferences, she has been approached by many who commented on the close partnerships. "One of the things that South Carolina is envied greatly for from many other states is the commitment and partnerships that we have with law enforcement," said Hancock. "Many states struggle to have law enforcement involved on the level that South Carolina gets to enjoy. I think that speaks very highly of our law enforcement agencies here in South Carolina and we're seeing that replicated here in Williamsburg County."
For more information and to view current events visit the coalition on Facebook at Williamsburg County CAST Coalition or call CAST Coordinator Nate Myers at the Williamsburg County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission at (843) 355-9113 or (843) 372-2169.