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SAN DIEGO — Staring down a rapid increase in DUI-related deaths, San Diego County’s district attorney joined her counterparts throughout the state Wednesday to spotlight the issue and talk through solutions.

Of the counties participating in the virtual news conference, San Diego was the largest and had by far the largest increase in DUI-related deaths. District attorneys note these numbers started spiking after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This year and last year, the battle has become really, really difficult and it is trending in the wrong way,” San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said.

Stephan joined six other district attorneys throughout California all seeing the same problem.

“We noticed this trend beginning last year in 2020 with COVID-19, so we have to assume there is something to the connection there,” she said.

In 2019, the county’s DUI death total was 16. It more than doubled to 33 a year ago and currently sits at 37 this year with more than a week left in the year. This year’s total marks the most DUI-related deaths San Diego County has seen since the data first started being recorded two decades ago.

“Over the last 20 years, we’ve averaged 15-20 DUI deaths annually and we kept that number steady, which is of course, as we all understand, one too many,” Stephan said.

In addition to the increase in DUI-related deaths, recorded blood alcohol levels in these cases are the cause for even more concern. Stephan says they are higher than ever, averaging .18%.

Many counties have strengthened their partnerships with Mothers Against Drunk Driving amid this spike. They hope to raise awareness of the issue in the heat of the busy holiday season.

“A designated driver is not the least intoxicated person in your group,” said Rhonda Campbell with MADD. “A designated driver is a non-drinking driver. It’s very important to find your designated driver before your evening begins.”