Drunk Driving: Are We Serious? Did Nick Adenhart Have To Die?

Ric LeczelCorrespondent IApril 10, 2009

TEMPE, AZ - FEBRUARY 22:  Pitch Nick Adenhart #90 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim poses during Photo Day on February 22, 2007 at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe Arizona.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

But by the grace of GOD go I. Having experienced the shame and guilt of causing an accident while DUI, and the mercy that GOD bestowed on my victims and me, I can say that there are a lot of people reading this that have driven drunk and not killed anyone or got caught.

I got caught, but was prevented from killing anyone by no actions of mine. I could have killed all nine people in a van I caused to roll over. I went to prison for 240 days. I am still on parole. The financial effects will be felt for many years to come.

And you know what? I will never do it again. Knowing that the difference between this driver and myself cannot be explained by any earthly reason, I feel incredibly guilty every time this happens. I have remorse. I learned. But, obviously, this driver did not.

I was in prison with many DUI drivers who were on offense No. 3, 4, 5, some with 10 or more, and this was the first time in prison for many of them. I was in alcohol education classes with people who continued to drive on suspended licenses, and, worse yet, continued to drive drunk, often to class!

I by no means condone or excuse the actions of this or any other drunk driver, including myself, but how long will the government allow this to go on? The technology to install an ignition-lock on all vehicles, new and old, exists.

The industry that profits from DUI's is vast and large and includes law enforcement, lawyers, bail bondsmen, prison unions, auto repair, insurance, and many others. They lobby long and hard against any changes that would stop or dramatically reduce DUIs.

Personal responsibility is the key, but some among us are not able to exercise it, including my prior self. Follow the money trail to discover that the same old methods to stop DUI are not working, yet they continue to be employed. Sobriety checkpoints are the most common but one of the most ineffective. 

Often, few or no drunk drivers are arrested, but many citations are issued, mainly for lack of insurance, failure to wear seat-belts, improper or non-use of child safety seats, and myriad other vehicle infractions. Where is the logic in that?

Methods also include rehab, classes, fines, probation, jail, prison, community service, license suspension, and many others.

The alcohol industry defends the interests of the criminal justice infrastructure that protects their monopoly on legal intoxication. How many drivers left Angel Stadium last night inebriated? Guess what? Not much is working. If it is illegal to drive drunk, how come there are parking lots for bars?

This driver had a suspended license, and he won't drive drunk again, because he will more than likely face a murder charge and do some serious time. The 20-year-old girl, Brittany Deanne Schuetz, is facing a murder charge for the same thing.

The same old story, again and again. Is tougher sentencing for first-time offenders the answer? If so, are we as a society prepared to bear the costs of lengthy sentences?

The average yearly cost of housing a prisoner in the California prison system is roughly $40,000. A year at USC is about $30,000. Are we prepared to incarcerate EVERYONE who is caught DUI?

People who have been arrested for DUI include law enforcement officers, judges, politicians, lawyers, doctors, athletes, nurses, teachers, coaches, trash collectors, ditch diggers, dog catchers, gang bangers, losers, winners and everyone in between. Should we make a first-time DUI with no injuries a felony offense, with a lengthy mandatory sentence?

Right now, NFL player Donte' Stallworth faces a manslaughter charge. Michael Vick served over two years for killing dogs. How much time should Stallworth serve for killing a man?

In 1998, Leonard Little, the defensive end for the St. Louis Rams, got behind the wheel of his car drunk. The highly touted star athlete killed Susan Gutweiler, mom, wife, human being that night. His blood alcohol level was a 0.19. This is what happened to him:

90 days in jail
four years probation
1,000 hours of community service
suspended without pay for the first half of the 1999 season

For killing someone. Are we serious?

As I write this, I just flipped on the Lakers game on TNT. Guess who is at the half-time desk? Famous DUI driver Charles Barkley. Should he be locked away, or on TV? I just Googled "celebrity athlete DUI arrests" (minus quotation marks) and hit on over 451,000 results.

Jim Leyritz is awaiting sentencing for manslaughter while DUI after another drunk driver was killed in a disputed red-light-intersection collision. Who was at fault? Tony La Russa got off with a mild punishment. Let's not even talk about the bad girls—Paris, Lindsay, Brittany, Nicole.

These are tough questions—especially when the tears are still rolling down. But it is also the best time to talk about it. What will it take in our society to stop this crime? How can we stop it? Can we treat everyone equally? Even the rich and famous.

GOD forbid, and I hope it isn't true, but what about the rumors that the driver of the car Adenhart was riding in had been drinking? Would that make us feel differently about this tragedy?

I don't know the answers, but I have a ton of questions. I know that I screwed up, and for reasons I will never know, I did not kill anyone. But I could have. And that still haunts me. I cry for this kid who just got killed. I also wonder what could have prevented it.

Maybe nothing. Maybe this is the price we pay as a society where alcohol consumption is legal, but drinking and driving is not. I welcome comments and opinions. What do you think?


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