Charlotte-Mecklenburg police say they’re stepping up efforts to stop people from drinking at Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game, then driving home.
A CMPD deputy chief said the department also is calling on fans to take personal responsibility for their actions if they decide to drink.
“We’ll have additional officers around the stadium and we’ll of course have officers that will be on the road looking for impaired drivers,” said CMPD Deputy Chief Jeff Estes. “… We police alcohol violations very vigorously, but one of the things that I always preach is personal responsibility. I can’t have enough officers to monitor every single person that drives home to make sure they don’t drink and drive.”
Last Sunday, Kelli Putnam, 28, was killed by a suspected drunken driver after the waitress had attended the Panthers game against the Seahawks.
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Officers said she stepped into South Boulevard and was struck by an Audi S4 driven by Gregory Allen Wheeling Jr. He’s charged with driving while impaired, his second arrest for DWI since 2009. The former Providence High and Eastern Carolina University student also faces a charge of aggravated felony death by vehicle.
Panthers officials said Wheeling did not attend last Sunday’s Panthers game, and authorities have not disclosed where they believe he had been in the hours leading up to the fatal crash.
Although CMPD officers will be working at this week’s Panthers game, Estes said Bank of America Stadium is a private venue, so enforcing the stadium’s alcohol policies falls on stadium employees.
Officers working at the stadium get involved if a person is accused a crime – such as communicating threats or assault – or is ejected.
Scott Paul, the executive director of stadium operations, told the Observer that employees who serve alcohol at the stadium are trained to identify people who have had too much.
The concessions employees “Go through a training process,” Paul said. “That’s what we try to do ... not over-serving.”
Paul said the stadium also rewards people for signing up for a designated driver’s program.
“We have a designated driver program in-stadium where people can go sign up and agree not to drink and drive. And they’ll get something in return for that at the game,” he said. Nearly 500 people sign up to be designated drivers at every game.
Paul said the Panthers also work with Rose limousine service to give a ride home to intoxicated people who have been asked to leave the stadium.
“That’s typically an ejection situation where we don’t want to turn them free out on the streets,” he said. “We’ll offer them a ride home with Rose.”
Staff writer Joseph Person contributed.