'Kern Under the Influence' Part I: Drunk drivers in Kern County

An old photo shows the devastation and debris from what is known as the "Princess Crash". A drunk driver going over 100 miles per hour on the streets of Bakersfield caused the crash. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

Monday night, Eyewitness News began a five-part, in-depth investigation: Kern Under the Influence.

In Part One, Eyewitness News reporter Jeff Platt shows us how drunk and deadly the drivers on Kern County's roads truly are.

Whether you're driving to work or picking the kids up at school, going out to lunch or coming home from dinner, calling it an early night or staying until last call, you are sharing the road with drunk drivers.

People would be surprised just how many people are driving under the influence in Kern County,

Every day in Kern County, thousands of drivers hit the road, unsuspecting of the danger that could be around any corner.

That danger is drunk drivers.

A danger Carla Pearson is all too aware of.

"Constantly when I’m driving in town, I know what can happen. I see it on a daily basis," Pearson said.

Pearson founded the local Mothers Against Drunk Driving in 2005, after her son Adam was killed in a drunk-driving crash in 2002.

"It's a feeling that no one wants to feel,” Pearson said. “I guarantee – trust me on that one."

She can't believe, 14 years later, she's still seeing so many people drive drunk.

Neither can Assistant Kern County District Attorney Jim Simson.

"It's an enormous problem here," Simson said.

He said it's a problem that’s just getting worse.

Last year was the most drunk, dangerous, and deadly year on Kern County roads in nearly a decade –nearly 4,300 drunk drivers were arrested.

That’s just a drop in the bucket, Simson said.

"That is such a small fraction of the number of DUI drivers that are actually out there," he said.

So just how many drunk drivers are out there with you?

Taking data from the District Attorney’s Office, the Center for Disease Control, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Census Bureau, an equation developed by Eyewitness News figured that at any given moment during the lunch hours, there's 15 drunk drivers on the road.

During the peak time of midnight to 3 a.m., there are 77 drunk drivers on Kern County roads – each one of them a tragedy waiting to happen.

"When the driver of that vehicle ultimately loses control, people are going to die," Simson said.

And those deaths aren't pretty.

"When you arrive at a scene like that, the first thing you are likely to say to yourself is that there's no way this can actually be a vehicle crash, it must be a plane crash," Simson said.

Unfortunately, he is seeing more and more of those crashes every year.

"You are more likely to die of a DUI-related crime in Kern County than in any other county in the state of California," Simson said.

So now that you know how real this problem is and how much it plagues Kern County, the questions Simson and Pearson have for you is: Whether you're drunk or sober, what makes you feel safe when you get in a car in Kern County? Do you really think this can't happen to you?

"Why would you want to take that chance? Isn't your family important to you as well? Because what would your family do without you?” Pearson asked.

One of biggest problems in Kern County is while we have a ton of drunk drivers, state laws force our county to let them drive drunk over and over again.

That's what we'll be looking at in Part Two of this series, airing Tuesday at 5 p.m. on KBAK-CBS and 10 p.m. on FOX 58.

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