Report shows half of recent traffic deaths in Chippewa Co. were alcohol-related

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CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) -- A new report shows, in some Wisconsin counties, at least half of all recent traffic deaths involved alcohol.

"We want to think about how to make that cultural shift away from alcohol use and moving it away from deaths," said Jen Rombalski, Chippewa County's Health Director.

She says she is not shocked about the latest numbers from the report.

It places Wisconsin at 39%. That means of all traffic deaths in the state from 2008-2012, 39% of those people were in accidents where alcohol was involved.

In Chippewa County that number is 50%.

"It did certainly raise a red flag," she said. “We know alcohol is part of the culture here in Wisconsin. It doesn't make a percentage like that acceptable, it’s something we are concerned about and want to work towards lowering."

Chippewa County has one of the highest percentages in our area, coming in just behind Buffalo County which had 55%.

Around the area, Eau Claire is at 30%, Dunn County at 32%, La Crosse County at 32% and Trempealeau County at 43%.

Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk says he does not know the reasoning behind the high number. He says over the years a lot has been done to help fight drunk driving.

"We've increased the penalty, we've lowered the blood alcohol, we've increased the jail time associated with 2nd, 3rd and fourth offenses," he said. "I don't know what the answer is."

He does point to education saying he believes that is one way we can help prevent problems with alcohol. Rombalski says there are groups and coalitions in the county looking at different parts of the problem.

"On the community level we want to think about how to make that cultural shift away from alcohol use and moving it away from deaths," Rombalski said.

Meghan Erickson has lived in Chippewa County her whole life. She says she believes drinking problems start in part because alcohol is so easily accessible.

"We have just on these blocks alone how many bars, so it's always been something that's around, parties are centered on alcohol, it's always there," she said.

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