We told children for weeks leading up to Christmas that Santa Claus was watching them and they needed to exhibit exemplary behavior to make sure Saint Nick visited their homes on Christmas Eve.

Now, it’s time for local law enforcement officers to be watching drivers. Some bad judgment on the part of drivers could mean waking up in the city or county jail on the first day of 2006. Officials urge people who know they’ll be drinking on New Year’s Eve to use a designated driver or stay at the place they go to celebrate.

“We’re going to have extra officers out on the streets,” Police Chief Steve Farmer said. “They’ll look for drunken drivers and people who aren’t properly restrained in seat belts or car seats.”

Cherokee County Sheriff Norman Fisher intends to continue a program he’s used for years on New Year’s Eve. He said there are usually some people who take him up on it and avoid being his guest on Jan. 1.

“If they’ll call us before they get in the car and take off, we’ll take them home as long as they live in Cherokee County,” Fisher said. “All deals are off if we catch them behind the wheel. The only place we’ll take them is to the county jail.”

City officers will be working overtime shifts during the holiday weekend. Farmer’s advice to people intending to party is simple.

“We want them to use a designated driver or stay where they’re at until they sober up,” he said. “If they get out and drive drunk and we find them, they’ll be guests of the city of Tahlequah.”

Fisher’s department will also put extra manpower on the street. They’ll be keeping an eye on county roads and highways, working with other agencies to try to keep drunken drivers off the road.

His offer to take party-goers home doesn’t mean he encourages people to consume alcohol.

“It’s a lot easier to take someone home than pull up on a crash and see that some innocent people have been hurt,” he said. “If one person calls and asks us for a ride, that may be all it takes to save a life or several lives.”

This is the only time of the year Fisher makes such an offer. Deputies will only take people to their homes.

“We’re not going to take them to another party or the liquor store,” Fisher said. “Once they’re home we expect them to stay there.”

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol will also be out in full force around Cherokee County this weekend.

The OHP will join other local agencies in watching for the drunken driver and seat belt violations.

An important thing to remember is that a first offense DUI can cost you a bail bondsman’s fee to get out of jail, attorney fees, a maximum $1,000 fine and, possibly, a year in county jail. Most insurance companies will either increase your rates or cancel your policy and there’s also the cost of getting your driver’s license reinstated.

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