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Alcohol-related crash fatalities up in mid-Missouri

Highway Patrol troopers said the preliminary numbers for this year indicate deaths in traffic crashes that involved alcohol are up in mid-Missouri.

Sgt. Scott White said Monday that according to final numbers from 2017, five people had died by the end of October. In that same time frame this year, 10 people are dead, and the numbers aren’t even official yet.

“Historically, people have thought drunk driving was a mistake but it’s a choice,” he said. “When people get behind the wheel impaired, they know the risk and what they’re saying is, ‘it’s worth the risk.'”

ABC 17 News picked up new court documents Monday related to a fatal crash in Columbia on Saturday.

William Lalka is accused of driving drunk on Stadium Boulevard near Blackfoot Road and killing his back seat passenger, Andrew Helmreich, 26, when the car went off the street.

His front seat passenger, Celena Shearin, 26, was hurt and taken to a hospital with “minor” injuries, according to police. When authorities arrived on scene around 11 p.m., Lalka had fled the area.

About two hours after the crash, Lalka was found and taken into custody. Officer Mark Hoehne wrote in court documents that Lalka had a “strong odor of intoxicants coming from his breath.” Hoehne also said his speech was thick and slurred and his eyes were watery and bloodshot.

Three hours after the crash, Lalka provided a breath sample, which showed his blood alcohol content to be .107 percent.

Speaking generally, Sgt. White said that while .08 percent is the legal threshold for a DWI arrest; impairment can begin well before that.

“The picture of the drunk driver who’s driving across people’s yards and sideswiping school buses, that’s a thing of the past,” he said. “Those minor impairments is what causes people problems out there. They cross the center line just for a second and mentally they don’t react as they should, like slow down soon enough.”

Troopers said if you suspect someone planning to drive is impaired, don’t get in the car with them.

“Driving is a divided attention task,” White said. “You have to do something physical and mental at the same time and when someone’s impaired, those faculties are impaired. You don’t get affected mentally without being affected physically.”

White said if you’re thinking about drinking, just don’t get behind the wheel at all. Get a taxi or an Uber, he said.

“You don’t have to do the math about ‘OK, I can have these many drinks in an hour,'” he said. “Just don’t risk it.”

Lalka is currently facing two counts of DWI charges: causing serious injury and causing a death. He is also facing a felony leaving the scene of an accident charge.

All three people were wearing seat belts.

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