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Danger Zones: A river of drunk driving runs through Milwaukee County

Posted: 6:23 AM, Oct 31, 2019
Updated: 2019-10-31 23:24:03-04

MILWAUKEE -- Kim Fatigati had done it before, a left turn from Greenfield Avenue onto I-894 while oncoming traffic was stopped at a red light.

But on the afternoon of September 16, 2018, a driver coming from the west didn't even slow down for that light.

His Buick hit Fatigati's Toyota RAV4 broadside, sending her and a friend flying.

Danger Zones: A river of drunk driving runs through Milwaukee County

"I knew I was gonna get hit, but then I was oh my God, we're gonna get rolled," she said in her West Allis backyard, just blocks away from the scene of the crash.

Witnesses ran to help and had the small, silver SUV back upright by the time police arrived.

She and her friend went to the hospital.

The driver of the Buick was put in handcuffs.

Officers suspected Joseph Wesley of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

The 28 year-old Milwaukee man was charged with his first offense of causing injury while intoxicated, a case still pending in Milwaukee County court.

Heat Map of Drunk Driving
In northern Milwaukee County, there are small clusters of alcohol-involved crashes at busy intersections and a notable concentration on Fond du Lac Avenue. (Wisconsin State Patrol)

Fatigati escaped with scrapes and bruises.

Though she has never driven through that intersection again without thinking another driver

"The first time I hesitated and I hesitate to this day. I take that deep breath and look. Is everybody stopping?" she said.

The I-TEAM has discovered the place where Fatigati was hit is at the center of the worst cluster of drunk driving crashes in Wisconsin.

From the lakefront to the county line, a river of drunk drivers flows through the heart of Milwaukee County on Greenfield and National Avenues.

Combined, those two streets are almost 17 miles of pavement. Over a four year span between 2015 to 2018, they accounted for 222 crashes involving alcohol.

Heat Map.jpg
The southern half of Milwaukee County looks much different. Greenfield and National Avenues frame a river of alcohol-involved crashes across Milwaukee's south side, West Milwaukee and West Allis. The three black boxes indicate the highest concentration of crashes in this survey. (Wisconsin State Patrol)


West of 58th Street, the problem is at its worst. 146 of those crashes happened in the city of West Allis.

West Allis Police officer Dan Foy said chasing drunk drivers is a job that never stops because there are more out there than police can ever hope to catch.

"We try to get the ones we can get. Try and make an impact that way. Take the ones that aren't driving smart and take them away so they can't do it again in the future," Foy said during a night shift dedicated solely to finding impaired drivers.

Foy is part of the city's focus on finding drunk drivers. He averages 50 arrests for OWI each year.

In 2018, the department as a whole made 737 arrests for drunk driving, an increase from the year before.

Compare the problem West Allis faces with other parts of Milwaukee County and there simply is no comparison.

Capitol Drive, for example, has nearly double the traffic volume of Greenfield Avenue and less than half the drunk driving crashes over the same time period, 49.

Explore an interactive map of drunk driving crashes:

It's a similar story on North Avenue which had only 55 crashes.

Officer Foy says the reason why this is happening is fairly simple -- a cocktail of bars, busy streets and bad decisions.

"We have some pretty popular thoroughfares in our city, lots of traffic in and out. We have so many bars people like to go to," he said.

Many is no exaggeration.

In 11 square miles, West Allis has 106 licensed bars and taverns.

That is more per square mile than Milwaukee, a city nine times the size.

But to law enforcement it's not just the bars, it's the drinking culture.

"It's a tough thing to combat with so many drunk drivers out there," he said. "Wisconsin as a whole has, obviously, a drinking issue."

When Kim Fatigati learned she was hit on a street that's a magnet for drunk drivers, the drinking culture was her first thought.

"That's scary, but there's a lot of bars in between that area," she said.

It's a reality that makes Fatigati look at her neighborhood differently, and makes her nervous every time she drives down the street where she was hit.

The solution?

West Allis Police think it's keeping up the pressure and their presence on the streets.

Mayor Dan Devine said it includes capping the number of taverns in town at 30 fewer than the state would allow West Allis to license.

Though he is still amazed his community of 59,000 can support more than 100 bars.

"I don't know how some of them stay in business," Devine said.

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