- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - East Lansing Police Officer David DeKorte recently closed the book on a 32-year career. He guesses he’s made more than 1,500 drunken driving arrests. He is pretty sure his grandmother would be proud.

DeKorte lost his grandmother to a drunken driver in 1983 in Grand Rapids. He and his fraternal twin brother, Dan, were 21 years old and studying to be police officers.

“She knew we were going into police work,” said DeKorte, who turned 53 on Nov. 11, the day he retired. “I think she would be proud of us trying to keep other people safe.”

The accident happened in the afternoon as their grandmother was returning from the grocery store, DeKorte said. The other driver was a physician.

“It was a two-lane road, and he decided there was a car that was going to turn left, so instead of waiting behind that car, he took the shoulder in the dirt, lost control at a high rate of speed and hit her head-on,” DeKorte recalled.

The physician and his wife died at the scene. David and Dan DeKorte’s grandmother, who was in her late 60s, survived for a couple of hours in a local emergency room. The brothers were at work at a Grand Rapids restaurant and weren’t told about the accident until it was too late to say goodbye.

DeKorte said his first reaction was disbelief.

“Really? 4 o’clock in the afternoon, just coming home from the grocery store and get hit and killed by a drunk driver?,” he said he remembers thinking.

After he came to work at ELPD in 1984, DeKorte said he realized drunk driving can happen any time of the day or night.

He believes he was hit five times during his career, the first time on New Year’s night in 1985 when a drunk driver hit his patrol car. His injuries were limited to bumps and bruises. His patrol car wasn’t so lucky.

“I had only been here eight months and had a patrol car totaled,” he told the Lansing State Journal (https://on.lsj.com/1ToZGFl ).

A few years ago, a driver went through a solid red light at Saginaw Street and Harrison Road and took off the side of DeKorte’s patrol car.

“That spun me around. I’ve got that one on video,” he said.

In a happy twist, another crash involving a drunk driver wound up being a life-changing experience.

“That’s actually where I met my wife. She was one of the cars the drunk had hit,” DeKorte said. As he remembers it, the drunk driver turned in front of two cars, and both cars - including the one driven by his future wife, Susan - hit the drunk driver’s car.

A few months later, she came in to file another report on damage to her car. They have been married 25 years, and their son, Davis plays hockey and golf for Lake Forest College in suburban Chicago.

East Lansing Interim Police Chief Jeff Murphy said that DeKorte could have worked whatever shift he wanted, as the officer with the most seniority on the force. He chose nights.

“He liked the work. He liked the people. He liked the night shift, and he had a particular passion for drunk driving enforcement,” Murphy said.

In September, Mothers Against Drunk Driving presented DeKorte with its Outstanding Officer Award for 2014, which he also received in 2006, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013.

“He was a leader on the shift, and he encouraged a lot of younger officers to follow his lead,” Murphy said.

While DeKorte said alcohol has always been an issue in East Lansing, “it was a lot worse” when he was a young officer in the 1980s. At that time, he said the department regularly arrested 1,000 drunk drivers annually.

These days, the total is closer to 300 per year. The difference is due to stricter laws and penalties, DeKorte said, but it’s also the result of more taxis, more driver services such as Uber and “more people who don’t want the consequences.”

There’s the issue of license suspensions and Secretary of State fees for reinstatement as well, but DeKorte said the message about not drinking and driving is only getting through slowly.

“There’s always those people (who say), ‘Well, I’ve got to work tomorrow, I’m going to drive my car home’ or make a food run, we still see those people,” he said.

Over the years, DeKorte said, it became easier to identify drunk drivers. At a red light, are they stopping at the line or in the crosswalk? When they turn a corner, are they going up over the curb? Are they drifting out of their lane or driving down Abbot in the bike lane? Are they driving with their bright lights on or without lights?

“You look for a lot of the hidden clues, you pick things up from observation,” DeKorte said.

“They can only teach you so much in the academy. You’re still young at 21,” he said, “but every day on the road you learn something new.”

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Information from: Lansing State Journal, https://www.lansingstatejournal.com

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