Grant extends 'no refusal' dates in Tarrant County's anti-DWI campaign



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Posted on November 20, 2012 at 7:06 PM

FORT WORTH -- On July 9, a drunk driver caused a head-on crash near Northeast Mall. The driver had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit at 3:30 in the afternoon.

Jeremy Soliz pleaded guilty and received 10 years. "Chilli" Vasquez, 9, got a life sentence in a wheelchair.

During a press conference Tuesday Vasquez made her own plea.

"Please don't drink and drive over the holidays," she read, in a soft voice. "Because kids could get injured that you don't know."

Chilli appeared on national television last week after reading a heartfelt letter in court to the man who paralyzed her. Tuesday, she happily agreed to be the new face and voice of a major expansion in Tarrant County's anti-DWI campaign.

A $300,000 state grant will extend the no-refusal effort to seven holidays, instead of two. No refusal dates will now include the Fourth of July, New Year's, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and the Super Bowl. The grant will also pay to train a hundred police officers on how to draw blood for evidence.

The expanded program kicks off this week for Thanksgiving, and will be in place from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday nights.

Chilli's mom hopes her daughter's courage will make a difference. Experts say no refusal campaigns definitely make a difference.

"No refusal" means suspected drunk drivers can be compelled to provide blood samples if they refuse to give one. Chief Bill Wayborn's department in tiny Dalworthington Gardens started it in North Texas. His officers draw blood on every drunk driving stop. Chief Wayborn said the DWI conviction rate for his department is 100 percent.

Tarrant County's New Year's no refusal effort produced convictions in 10-of-10 trials so far this year, and guilty pleas in 84 cases out of 108. Assistant District Attorney Richard Alpert said the goal is not arrests and convictions, but eliminating drunk driving fatalities.

When Chilli finished her statement at a press conference at the DA's office Tuesday, the room erupted in applause.

Prosecutors are also thanking her in another way. They've adopted her family for Christmas. The DA’s office will accept gifts and monetary donations for the Vasquez family, which includes seven children. For information, contact Ashlea Deener at 817-884-2482, or Allenna Bangs at 817-884-1982.