HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — With less than a month left in 2019, the number of DWI arrests continues to hit record highs, but it's the number of underage drivers arrested for drinking and driving that is even more concerning to law enforcement.
So far this year, 402 teens aged 17 to 20 have been arrested for DWI with an average BAC of .137. Officials say it's an epidemic in Harris County that is putting drivers at risk.
"We have a real problem," said Sean Teare, Vehicular Crimes Unite Chief with the District Attorney's Office.
More than 14,575 people have been busted drinking and driving in 2019. Teare knows that number will significantly climb.
"I would expect us closer to 16,000 than 15,000 by the end of the year and that's unacceptable in this day and age," said Teare.
It averages out to about 41 DWI arrests per day. Deadly accidents happen weekly if not daily in Harris County and way too often it's an underage driver behind the wheel.
"When you mix young underage kids, alcohol, and cars you see an increased number of deaths and tragedies that result from that," said Teare.
Jagger Smith, 17, and Erick Hernandez, 19, are two high profile cases still pending of teens who investigators say got drunk and drove and ended up killing innocent people.
"It's extremely scary," said Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. "I think what's missing from the numbers, what's really alarming is how many didn't get caught."
Gonzalez says together the community needs to do much more. He's asked for more resources in next year's budget to help increase DWI patrols in trouble spots, but he says enforcement isn't the only answer.
"We need a more targeted approach," said Gonzalez. "Most of the time these teens end up getting it [alcohol] from their parents especially at house parties and things like that."
The Sheriff's Office together with the DA's office has not shied away from going after businesses, bartenders and clerks supplying the alcohol to underage teens. They are focused on a multi-pronged approach to try and curb the problem.
"We got to do something," said Gonzalez. "We got to put our hands around this issue. We're tired of having to knock on doors and have to deliver horrific news."
The Sheriff's Office says it also wants to focus more on school outreach. That's part of their new budget proposal that they will present to Commissioners Court next week.