Two area police officers were recently recognized by Illinois Mothers Against Drunk Driving for their efforts in getting drunken drivers off the roads.
Fairview Heights Police Officer Gregory J. Hosp, 42, and O'Fallon Police Officer Brian Gimpel both received the MADD Heroes Award during a recent ceremony held by MADD in Springfield. The award recognizes the impact both men made in supporting the campaign to end drunken driving.
The organization recognized 29 officers in the state.
Gimpel has not only worked to take drunken drivers off the road, he also works on victim support, underage drinking prevention and alcohol awareness education. He is also the O'Fallon Police Department's Driver's Education liaison and instruction for the O'Fallon Township High School.
In 2012, Gimpel arrested 20 suspected drunken drivers and was recognized by the Southwestern Illinois Law Enforcement Commission and the Illinois Department of Transportation for his 200th driving under the influence arrest.
An officer for 15 years, Hosp has been with the Fairview Heights Police Department for about two-and-a-half years. His determination to take impaired drivers off the streets was born in 2000 when he was an officer with the Caseyville Police Department.
"There was a young kid in town, Robbie Marciniak, who was struck and killed by a drunk driver," he said. "He was a really good kid who was always around town. He always had a smile. We all knew him and liked him. His death really impacted me, it impacted all of us."
Robert Marciniak Jr., 19, was struck and killed by Darrel Hoffman of Louisiana on April 9, 2000. Hoffman did not realize he had run over and killed Marciniak who had been walking along Illinois 157. After Marciniak was hit and killed, Hoffman went to Taco Bell and was so impaired he was unaware he had just killed a man. Marciniak's body was found the next morning by construction workers. The body was on the grassy embankment next to Illinois 157. Hoffman pleaded guilty to reckless homicide.
Hosp explained that before the hit-and-run death of Marciniak, Caseyville had not concentrated efforts to get drunk and impaired drivers off the streets.
"After Robbie's death, we decided to take it head on," Hosp said. "From then on, my career drove me that way. Over the years we see these senseless deaths and it's something that can be prevented. You'll never stop them all, but it can be prevented. To me, it's the most important job a patrol officer can do. It's not glamorous like busting a car full of narcotics or illegal weapons, but it has a very direct impact on the community. You're taking someone with a weapon off the street. That person is hurtling down the road with a 5,000 pound weapon and when you take that away from them, you protect the community."
During his career, Hosp has made more than 650 driving under the influence arrests, 65 of those made last year. Since he joined the Fairview Heights Police Department, the number of DUI arrests has tripled, according to the police department. In 2012, officers in Fairview Heights made 272 DUI arrests.
"Other officers ask how I can do it all the time, deal with drunk drivers. Drunk drivers can be a challenge because they aren't usually very happy to see you," he said. "I try to treat each of them as nicely as I can, but it's something that's obviously radically going to affect their life. Not just for a year, not just 10 years down the road -- it's always going to be there. But, the bright side is, I stopped you before you killed somebody or killed yourself."
Hosp has recently taken intensive training to recognize people who are under the influence of drugs. In October, he is expected to be the first Drug Recognition Expert in St. Clair County.
"Drug driving is becoming such a huge issue now," he said. "In the past three or four years we've seen so much more of the heroin, of the oxycontin, so much of that is flooding the streets and you have to be able to articulate, and be able to attest to, that this person is indeed driving drug impaired."
Hosp is also a DUI instructor for the Southwestern Illinois Police Academy and for the regional police training commission. In 2011, he was selected as Patrolman of the Year by the Fairview Heights Police Department.