By the time Trooper David Dylag arrived at the scene where a car had crashed into a tree in Henrietta Township around 11:35 p.m. Wednesday, residents said the driver had fled.
“He ran down the road,” said resident Scott Rollins of 11882 Vermilion Road whose front yard the driver drove through before striking a tree. “He was like, ‘Please don’t call the cops, I’ve been drinking.’ ”
Thanksgiving is associated with feasts, family and football, but the night before the holiday is traditionally one of the biggest drinking nights of the year as friends and family reunite and sometimes overindulge. Police were busy Wednesday night and early Thursday morning pursuing drunken drivers.
Troopers from the Ohio Highway Patrol’s Elyria post, to which Dylag is assigned, arrested and charged 12 drivers between 6 p.m. Wednesday and 6 a.m. Thursday with drunken driving, according to Lt. Travis Hughes, post commander.
On a typical weeknight, Hughes said the troopers make one to three arrests and have two or three troopers and one supervisor on the road. A federal taxpayer grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has paid for five extra troopers to work overtime on the holiday weekend.
The Vermilion Road wreck was one of two possible alcohol-related crashes that troopers responded to Wednesday night and early Thursday morning. The driver of the Ford Escort LX station wagon that crashed on Vermilion Road was southbound when he veered to the right, smashing Rollins’ mailbox before striking the tree and substantially damaging the driver’s side door and windshield. The Escort is registered to D.J. Pohorence, a recovering heroin addict who appeared in a Chronicle-Telegram profile Sept. 9.
When reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Pohorence denied driving drunk. He said he crashed after swerving to avoid a deer.
Pohorence said he left the scene of the accident because he didn’t have a cell phone with him and wanted to call a tow truck.
Rollins and his son, Kevin Rollins, said Poherence’s breath smelled of alcohol. They said they saw him talking on his phone after the crash. Pohorence, who said he wasn’t hurt, said he walked to his home in Oberlin and reported the crash to Oberlin police Thursday afternoon who referred him to the Elyria post.
“I’ve been contacting police and trying to do the right thing,” said Poherence, who said he has been alcohol- and drug-free since shortly after his father fatally overdosed on cocaine and heroin in April. “The neighbors totally misunderstood me. I was kind of dazed and confused because I just hit a tree going 60 mph. I told them that the cops were going to assume alcohol was involved because of the date.”
Poherence said he stayed at the crash scene for about 45 minutes after the accident. But Dylag, who was accompanied by a Chronicle reporter writing about Thanksgiving drunken-driving patrols, arrived about 15 minutes after neighbors called about the crash. The calls were made immediately after the crash, according to Rollins.
“He seemed like a nice kid, (but) he shouldn’t have ran,” Scott Rollins said. “He was already in enough trouble.”
Dylag said it will be difficult to prove whether Poherence was drunk — no alcohol containers were visible in the Escort — but Poherence will be charged with leaving the scene of an accident, a first-degree misdemeanor.
While Poherence avoided arrest, at least temporarily, Kyle Johnston, another driver out that morning, wasn’t as fortunate.
Around 2:30 a.m. Thursday, Dylag noticed that the Ford Expedition that Johnston was driving weaved slightly on state Route 254. After Johnston touched the double line after turning onto Gulf Road, Dylag stopped him.
Johnston, whom Dylag said admitted to drinking three shots before being stopped and was carrying four Percocet pills in a piece of paper without a prescription, had trouble keeping his balance during a field sobriety test.
Dylag also said Johnston’s eyes jerked during a horizontal nystagmus test. The test involves an officer moving a pen left to right and right to left as the driver’s eyes follow it. The eyes should move smoothly back and forth if the driver isn’t drunk.
At the post, Johnston, 25, of the 100 block of Chestnut Street in Elyria, registered a 0.11 in a Breathalyzer test. The legal limit is 0.08.
Because Johnston has no criminal record, Dylag released him on his own recognizance rather than making him spend the weekend at Lorain County Jail.
Johnston, who said he was carrying the Percocet to treat a back injury, was charged with drunken driving and possession of a controlled substance. Johnston worried about how a conviction could affect his job prospects but was grateful not to be locked up.
“I have bills to pay and a kid to take care of,” he said. “Thank you for being a great officer. I won’t make this mistake again.”
Dylag, a trooper since 1998, said he has made hundreds of drunken-driving arrests and responded to dozens of alcohol-related fatal crashes in his career.
He said the type of targeted enforcement done on the Thanksgiving weekend can save lives and deter drivers from getting behind the wheel drunk.
“That’s the whole point,” he said of arrests like Johnston’s. “Hopefully, he learns his lesson.”
DUI? No thanks
Because of heavy travel and celebrating, the night before Thanksgiving and the early-morning hours of the holiday traditionally are a time of increased alcohol-related crashes and drunken-driving arrests in Lorain County and around the nation.
Drunken driving arrests by Ohio Highway Patrol’s Elyria post between 6 p.m. Wednesday and 6 a.m. Thursday: 12
In 2011: 9
In 2010: 7
On a typical Wednesday night and early Thursday morning: 1 to 3
SOURCE: Ohio Highway Patrol Elyria post
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.