Late last year, while feeling touches of a fever, Lake Forest patrol Deputy Laurel Yoshimoto was thinking of taking a sick day.
Three of her Orange County Sheriff’s Department colleagues told her no, she needed to report to work and make one more arrest.
At stake was a chance for Yoshimoto to reach a landmark 50 DUI arrests for 2018.
Sure enough, Yoshimoto made the arrest shortly before Christmas – earning her, for the first time, a Mother’s Against Drunk Driving MADD Award for top arresting deputy for her department (OCSD Lake Forest Police Services).
Although Yoshimoto also qualified for a Deuce Award (50 or more DUI arrests), MADD doesn’t give two awards to the same officer unless they arrest at least 100 DUI suspects.
Busting allegedly impaired drivers is a priority for Yoshimoto, who joined the OCSD in December 2011 and has been a patrol deputy in Lake Forest for a little more than two years.
“My field training officer (Deputy Ryan Hansen) was passionate about it, and one of our sergeants (Ricky Rosal) had a sister killed by a drunk driver, so arresting (impaired drivers) is one of the best ways to protect our community,” Yoshimoto said.
Acknowledging her award, Yoshimoto gave a shout-out to fellow Lake Forest Deputy Amy Raphael, who with 38 DUI arrests in 2018 was, along with Yoshimoto, among more than 100 law enforcement personnel honored Wed., April 10, at the 2019 MADD Southern California Law Enforcement & Prosecutor Luncheon, held at Los Coyotes Country Club in Buena Park.
Raphael was the recipient of a Deuce Award.
“I happened to beat (Raphael) out last year on highest DUI arrests for Lake Forest, but her number of arrests is higher than what a lot of other people got for their whole city,” Yoshimoto said.
“Deputy Raphael and I both respond to normal calls, but in addition we both care about DUIs. Last year, she and I worked opposite sides of the week on nights. That way, we strategically covered the city throughout the whole week with deputies who care about DUI arrests.
“All of our partners in Lake Forest have a passion for protecting our people and are proficient in DUI alcohol and drug arrests, but Deputy Raphael and I tried to be strategic in our enforcement and took this on because we are both passionate about it.”
Although highway deaths caused by drunk-driving crashes have been cut in half nationwide since 1988, “this success has created a misconception that drunk driving is no longer a major issue,” said Cristi Walker, a senior program specialist for MADD Southern California in San Diego who served as emcee at the April 10 event.
“However, as we all know, this is not the case,” Walker said.
Drunk-driving crashes remain a major cause of death and injuries on America’s highways, with over 10,000 fatalities and 290,000 injuries annually.
The top DUI arresting officer in Orange County in 2018 was Officer Grant Hasselback of the Huntington Beach PD, with 370 DUI arrests.
Deuce Awards were given to officers and deputies with 25-49 arrests.
MADD Awards were bestowed on those with 50-99 arrests.
And Century Awards were given to those with 100 or more DUI arrests.
Prosecutors also were honored at the ceremony.
The 2018 Prosecutor of the Year awards went to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office’s Traffic Safety Resource Prosecution (TSRP) Team. The three honorees on the team were Hoon Chang, deputy district attorney; Dalia Wahab, deputy district attorney; and Eric Franke, DA investigator.
“(This is) an opportunity for us to really show how much we care about law enforcement and prosecutors,” Patricia Rillera, MADD California state executive director, said in opening remarks.
Said Walker: “In this room, we are among hardworking men and women of law enforcement who work diligently to remove impaired drivers from our streets, prosecutors who work hard to hold those offenders accountable for their actions, and community heroes who are consistently trying to make our community a safer place,” Walker said.
She called impaired driving a 100-percent preventable crime, and said MADD’s goal is to change the “apathetic culture” surrounding drinking and driving.
Although highway deaths caused by drunk driving crashes have been cut in half nationwide since 1988, “this success has created a misconception that drunk driving is no longer a major issue,” Walker said. “However, as we all know, this is not the case.”
MADD provides many services to all Southern California residents, including servicing victims and families of drunk and drugged driving crashes at no cost, lobbying to support stronger drunk driving laws, and delivering underage drinking prevention strategies to thousands of underage youth and parents.
In 2019, MADD will be adding death notification training to its services.
The non-profit also offers court-mandated victim impact panels for DUI offenders to help them recognize and internalize how their choice to abuse driving under the influence harms their community.
“MADD’s mission and focus has not wavered over the years,” Walker said. “These tragic deaths and injuries continue to drive our efforts to end drunk driving, help, fight drugged driving, support the victims of this violent crime, and prevent underage drinking.
During the ceremony, a moment of silence was held for California Highway Patrol Sgt. Steve Licon, who was killed April 6, 2019, by a suspected impaired driver following a traffic stop in Lake Elsinore.
The 27-year CHP veteran is survived by a wife and two children.
“No job is more dangerous or more thankless than an officer on duty,” Walker said.
Victim speaker Nadine Dorado, a MADD Southern California volunteer, suffered a crushed spine, injured neck, and other life-threatening injuries when she was involved in a four-vehicle car crash caused by a drunk driver on April 30, 2017.
“All I could think of was, ‘This is it. My life is over,’’’ Dorado said.
Emergency spine surgery saved her life – and mobility.
“Even after all the surgeries I’ve had and all the treatments I’ve received, I’m saddened to see that my life will never ever be the same since the crash,” Dorado said. “I was fortunate enough to become a part of (MADD), which has truly helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Another OCSD deputy recognized at the MADD event was Deuce Award winner Davida Tidwell (27).
MADD also listed in its program the top arresting OCSD deputy per contract city or department. In addition to Yoshimoto, with 50 DUI arrests in Lake Forest, the deputy honorees were:
Denise French (26, Aliso Viejo)
Daniel Merz and Kevin Reinhardt (32, Dana Point)
Mark Freeman (7, Harbor Patrol)
Edwin Ochoa (9, Laguna Hills)
John Popp (74, Laguna Niguel)
Nathan Rivas (28, Mission Viejo)
Joseph Medina (28, North Patrol)
Brenden Billinger (35, Rancho Santa Margarita)
Jeremy Johnson (18, San Clemente)
Nicholas Ross (19, San Juan Capistrano)
James Distler (4, Stanton)
Hana Robertson (26, Yorba Linda)
Yoshimoto’s shift last year was 6 p.m.-6:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and every other Saturday.
She said she was inspired to shoot for 50 DUI arrests after then-Lt. Brad Valentine, who is now a captain, bragged to her about getting 100 DUI arrests.
“Yes, but (the OCSD) had a designated DUI car back then,” Yoshimoto, a trained DRE (drug-recognition expert), told him.
In 2018, Yoshimoto made all of her DUI arrests while on regular patrol. The Lake Forest OCSD no longer has a designated DUI team.
Yoshimoto said many drivers she arrested weren’t cognizant of what happened and felt they had been OK to drive.
She noted that a single DUI arrest can eat up several hours of a deputy’s shift.
“For every arrest I made, my partners helped me out,” Yoshimoto said. “This is their award as well.”