SANTA CRUZ -- In a spike that concerns law enforcement and others, five underage drunken drivers were arrested over the weekend, including one who slammed into a home near Watsonville and struck a woman inside, the California Highway Patrol said.

"It's more underage DUI activity than we typically see in a weekend," officer Sarah Jackson said. "This is not something we haven't dealt with before, but five in one weekend is excessive."

The arrests include a 20-year-old man who had his two toddlers and girlfriend in the car when he slammed into a home near Watsonville, causing major injuries to a 47-year-old woman inside the home who became trapped under the car and a dresser, the California Highway Patrol said.

Jose Armonda Lopez was leaving a Super Bowl party when he lost control of a 2010 Ford Fusion and crashed into the Lakeview Road home near College Road about 8 p.m. Sunday, Jackson said.

His 19-year-old girlfriend suffered moderate injuries. His children, ages 1 and 2, were not injured, Jackson said.

She said he was speeding and his blood alcohol level was about twice the legal limit. He was arrested on suspicion of felony driving under the influence, child endangerment and other charges, she said.

She said the CHP will work with the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to investigate who provided alcohol to him.


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"The CHP takes underage alcohol abuse seriously and will work with both the County Alcohol and Drug Program as well as Alcoholic Beverage Control to both prevent and thoroughly investigate any adult providing alcohol to minors," Jackson said.

The other four underage drivers arrested for drunken driving over the weekend were all ages 19 and 20. One was pulled over on Freedom Boulevard, one on Gross Road, one near Bear Creek Road and one on Arista Court in Watsonville, she said.

Jackson said every impaired driver is a danger, but that young people are naturally more prone to risk-taking and have less experience driving, making them even more of a concern.

"And when you add alcohol, it just seems to be an exponential problem," she said.

She said there are zero-tolerance laws for underage drivers charged with driving under the influence and that their license suspensions are usually for a longer time than adults.

The CHP has several programs designed to combat the problem, she said.

Officers work with the county Office of Education and the county's Friday Night Live program to bring the DUI Court program into high schools, having teens witness an actual sentencing hearing of someone convicted of driving under the influence, Jackson said.

Other programs include twice-monthly Start Smart classes teaching safe driving to teens that include a section on driving under the influence, Jackson said.

The CHP also runs a program called Right Turn in middle schools and conducts Drug Impairment Training for teachers to help them recognize when students are under the influence, she said.

Also, Capt. Matt Olson sends a letter to parents any time the CHP cites a young person for an alcohol or drug-related offense, offering a list of local resources, she said.

"We approach it from a lot of angles," Jackson said. "Drug and alcohol with teens is a big issue here."

Similarly, the woman who organizes DUI Court at the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, Martine Watkins, says she believes awareness of the dangers of drugs and alcohol has to be an ongoing part of a young person's education.

"It's a great program, but I do think that, long-term, there has to be a number of impacts," Watkins said.

DUI Court includes testimonial speakers as well, she said, recalling one young man from the San Lorenzo Valley who spoke to students last year about driving while intoxicated and causing a crash that killed his best friend.

"Students hear speakers talk about someone who has been killed due to their actions and can see the actual legal, social and other costs," she said. "It can be hard to put it all together until you see someone whose life has really been changed."

Follow Sentinel reporter Cathy Kelly on Twitter at Twitter.com/cathykelly9