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Ripon checkpoint targets DUI suspects, drivers without licenses
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Motorists were funneled through a cone lane for eight hours Saturday night and early Sunday morning as Ripon officers were searching for drivers being under the influence and those without valid drivers licenses. - photo by GLENN KAHL

RIPON - Two Ripon motorists found it difficult to evade a chase car during Saturday night’s DUI checkpoint on Jack Tone Road near Highway 99 – both were arrested for driving under the influence.

First Sergeant Steve Merchant pulled over Escalon driver Norman Joseph Leonardo, 72, on Santos Road during the later hours of the checkpoint operation.  Merchant said while the man’s girlfriend was standing outside his Corvette, he sped away from the officer leaving her standing on the side of the road.  He didn’t get far as he hit a speed sign post at Jack Tone Road, the officer said.

Leonardo was arrested for DUI and booked into San Joaquin County Jail in French Camp where he was later released on Sunday.

A second motorist, who was suspected to have detoured around the checkpoint entering Jack Tone Road to the north of the checkpoint, caught the chase car officer’s attention by not having a visible front license plate.   Sgt. Merchant gave chase and made a traffic stop on an S-10 pickup driven by Bennet F. Corder, 53, of Stockton near Clinton Avenue South.

Corder was taken to the Ripon Police Department prior to being booked at county jail where he was later released.   Both vehicles were impounded by officers.

As the northbound traffic was being funneled through the cones on Jack Tone Road, the flow was temporarily held up when a woman driver had to hurry back to the trunk of her car to get her driver’s license out of her purse.

The DUI checkpoint in Ripon was believed to be the only one in operation in the AVOID the 10 association of police agencies with the exception of Modesto.  Manteca reported having a saturation patrol under way in search of DUI offenders, but officers said they had no checkpoints scheduled.

Officers impounded a number of cars when the drivers had suspended licenses and were not allowed to continue operating their vehicles.  One couple and their dog from Oakdale lost their van to the tow truck when the woman motorist was found to be without a valid license – it had been suspended.  Other motorists ended up without their rides as well with one man having his loaner vehicle impounded that belonged to a Modesto car dealer.

One motorist was found to have marijuana wrapped in a towel in the front seat – marijuana gives off a tell-tale odor that quickly catches an officer’s attention.

A car filled with Ripon Christian students stopped in the cone lane at the earlier request of Ripon Traffic Officer Steven Meece.  Meece had been teaching three health classes involving DUI at the high school and wanted the students to have the experience of driving through a checkpoint.  He had told them that experience would be worth 10 points to their grades.

The checkpoint team was well prepared for their eight hours in the cold night complete with a couple of portable heaters and flood lights.  Community service officer Christina Carlo had made potato soup for the officers.  Her partner Liz Forks made taco enchilada dip and Marilyn Searcy offered up her famous “Low Rider Dip.”

Volunteers in Police Services (VIPS) Officer Richard Searcy manned the barbecue where he cooked two tri-tip roasts behind the utility trailer – parked in the center divider, it served as the group’s kitchen for the evening.

Searcy said having many take part in the preparation of the meal and the snacks was much better than in the past when one officer would make a pizza or hamburger run to feed the crew on the checkpoint line as well as those other officers on the street.

One Escalon officer, Anthony Hardgraves, was part of the DUI checkpoint team Saturday night picking up a little experience.  Escalon has only nine officers and doesn’t have the manpower to hold many check points in that community.

There were five members of the Volunteers in Police Services who also offered their time to help with the checkpoint in keeping stats and running licenses on foot to an officer checking them out on a car’s computer.