HOUSTON — There's a lot to celebrate during the month of March. Saint Patrick's Day celebrations always draw a crowd. Hundreds of thousands of Houston-area families enjoy a week off during Spring Break while college basketball fans watch their brackets crumble during March Madness. But no single event draws a crowd as massive as the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
More than 2.5 million people attended the rodeo last year and even more are expected this year. The rodeo runs from March 3 to 22.
"We are coming up on a pretty dangerous month," Sean Teare, the Assistant District Attorney for the Harris County District Attorney's Office, said. "We’ve got Rodeo, which is one of the most wonderful things about Houston. But it’s also one of the most dangerous, deadly times."
During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Houston police said they arrested 535 people suspected of driving while under the influence during last year's rodeo.
That's up from 2018 when the Houston Police Department said it made 426 DWI-related arrests.
Police are expecting even more arrests this year because every single DWI task force is fully staffed and the Texas Department of Transportation awarded a grant to the Houston Police Department. The grant will fund overtime pay so more officers can patrol Houston freeways.
It's going to be a no-refusal March.
"You will not be able to refuse a breath specimen. If you do, we’re going to get a blood sample from a search warrant and we are going to take your blood," Teare said.
RodeoHouston runs off the help of about 30,000 volunteers. In addition to hired bartenders, some volunteers are certified by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission so they can serve alcohol in hospitality areas like the popular wine garden.
"If something tragic happens and it can be traced back to those volunteers selling at the wine garden or any other place within the rodeo, we will come after them as well," Teare said.
Jeanette Einkauf, a mother against drunk driving, prays that no one else has to feel the pain of losing a family member.
"I’m going to ask you to be a friend to your friend that had too much to drink. Take the keys. Have another way to get home," she said.
Here is a statement from Houston Rodeo officials:
"The safety of our Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ guests is always our highest priority.
"More than 1,000 law enforcement officers are employed during the Rodeo from multiple departments including the Houston Police Department, Harris County Sheriff’s Office and METRO Police Department, all of whom can enforce any and all laws, including public intoxication laws on our grounds. We work closely with law enforcement year-round to incorporate additional measures to ensure the safety of our guests.
"All of our bartenders and volunteers who are in Hospitality Services are TABC certified. The Rodeo works closely with TABC to ensure all servers receive TABC training and are prepared to identify and prevent sales of alcoholic beverages to intoxicated individuals.
"We do not promote overconsumption of alcohol and encourage our guests to utilize rideshare and public transportation options."