A large gathering of law enforcement stood behind MPD Chief Steve Stahl during today's press conference. Photo by Adam Wolfe

By Adam Wolfe

In the last two weeks, two fatal accidents have occurred in Maricopa. In both occasions, the deceased was not wearing a seat belt.

Maricopa Police Chief Steve Stahl held a press conference today to address the recent tragedies and discuss driver safety issues heading into Labor Day weekend.

Stahl was accompanied by representatives from the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, Pinal County Attorney’s Office, Ak-Chin Police Department, Gila River Police Department, Coolidge Police Department, Eloy Police Department, Apache Junction Police Department, Florence Police Department and the Department of Public Safety during the press conference. The large gathering was meant to show a united front and let local residents know who is there to protect them.

“The agencies behind me and the men and women who serve with these agencies will be out in force,” Stahl said. “I want to emphasize the fact that our primary responsibility is not to punish and not to write tickets. It is to remind people, through visibility and traffic stops and educational opportunities, to drive more safely.”

Stahl referred to the deaths of Nate Ford, 16, and Heidi Johnson, 53, in traffic crashes just a day apart.

“We will never know whether wearing a seat belt would’ve caused life to still be here today,” Stahl said. “We’re not here to throw blame or vilify anything. What we do know is seat belts do save lives. Seat belts are important. Teenagers watch what we model as adults. We need to model good driving behavior.”

Stahl made a point to emphasize the community’s role in keeping roadways safe.

Common issues seen by law enforcement include not wearing a seat belt, texting while driving and driving while under the influence. Stahl also stated alcohol is not the only thing to watch out for regarding DUIs. Drugs use play a large role as well.

“About 50 percent of our arrests involving impaired driving revolve around the use of prescription drugs,” Stahl said. “Those that use prescription drugs, please consult with your doctors to make sure that operating a motor vehicle is appropriate.”

Stahl closed with a simple statement: “The best way to model love to all our family members and loved ones is to remind them ‘driving is a serious event. We love you, and we want you to take that seriously.’”

An increased law enforcement presence will be on the roads and highways for the holiday weekend. The extra manpower and equipment is largely paid for by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. Residents are urged to use extra caution regarding the increased amount of traffic that will be present.


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