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Troopers to be out in force New Year’s weekend

The Mississippi Highway Patrol is warning New Year’s revelers that troopers will be out in force this holiday weekend, with 130 additional officers looking to take impaired drivers off the roads.

Department of Public Safety spokesman Warren Strain said Thursday that MHP is prepared to spend about $35,000 in federal grants to pay troopers overtime for the 78-hour holiday period — beginning Friday at 6 p.m. and ending at midnight on Monday.

“We’ll be looking for the impaired driver but also any other violations that we come across, be it seat-belt violations, drugs, speeding or whatever the case may be,” Strain said.

Troopers worked 146 wrecks with three fatalities last year over the New Year’s holiday, and wrote 2,534 tickets. Strain said that’s down from the 5,261 citations issued the previous year.

“We saw about a 30 percent decrease that could be attributed to the manpower that had to be shifted to the coast for the Hurricane Katrina situation down there,” Strain said.

Maj. Wayne Payne with the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department on the coast said South Mississippi officials are gearing up for a busy weekend.

There are already more tourists in town than there were last year, when most of the 12 coastal casinos and other hotspots remained closed due to damage from Katrina, which hit on Aug. 29, 2005, Payne said.

“New Year’s last year was slow, but we’re already seeing more people this year. We certainly want everybody to be safe, and we’ll have extra patrols out,” Payne said. “We’ll have our DUI enforcement out there.”

Mississippi Department of Transportation Executive Director Larry L. “Butch” Brown said in a news release there will be no road construction in the state between 6 p.m. Friday and Tuesday morning, but that doesn’t mean motorist shouldn’t use caution.

“We are encouraging motorists to stay alert, obey the speed limits and to not drink and drive,” he said.

Strain said people should be careful not to start the new year on a sour note.

“If you’re going to be celebrating, don’t overdo it. Get a designated driver. Call a cab. Often times during the New Year’s holiday, the celebrations are associated with some type of alcohol consumption,” Stain said. “There’s going to be extra troopers, and cities and counties as well are going to have a full complement of law officers out.”