I don’t know about yours, but my OWI sucked.
At age 20, I left a downtown bar one school night near 2 a.m. and drove toward a friend’s home on General Mouton. As the designated driver, I had one beer and one double Crown and Coke throughout the course of the evening. No sweat on my or my passengers’ part.
Minutes later, it wasn’t erratic driving, failure to yield or a forgotten blinker that got me pulled over, but my fog lights. My fog lights?
To shine those lights in addition to regular headlamps when there’s no “inclement” weather, I later learned, is a ticketable offense.
Because I panicked and threw the remainder of my Crown and Coke out the window once I saw those red and blue lights (smart), the officer administered a field sobriety test in front of 2 a.m. downtown traffic.
I distinctly remember there was so much traffic.
“But I’m not drunk!” I argued, although I admitted to what I drank.
I was almost correct. The breathalyzer registered me with a 0.07 blood-alcohol content, and those familiar with the law know that’s below the 0.08 limit allowed for an of-age drinker. But it’s 0.02 if you’re under 21. If it had been a year later, the arresting officer — who disclosed he belonged to the governor’s “OWI Task Force” and is now the state police spokesperson — would have let me off.
I later argued these points to my parents, friends, everyone I got into conversation with about OWI arrests. Especially when I was drinking.
“Fog lights! Point zero-seven! Below the legal limit! This is a racket!”
The holding cell that night was cold, and that sucked. Paying more than $100 for bail sucked. My car was towed, and paying $250 for that sucked. Court sucked.
But paying $2,500 for a lawyer didn’t suck, because my dad paid for it. I can’t even remember what I pleaded, but my underage drinking and driving charge warranted only a couple of court dates and the same defensive driving course I took when I got my first ticket at age 16.
How many of you have been enabled in that way?
That was 2008.
2010. My car is barreling through the Saint Streets at some wee hour of the morning. It was a night of many Vegas bombs, I think, and although I’d been taken “safely” by a drunk driver back to a friend’s house, I got restless. I snuck out the back door. My house was but a few blocks away.
With music blasting and my windows down — I’m feeling good and drunk about now — I run a neighborhood stop sign and cut an aggressive right turn. Did I mention it was raining? My car fishtails, and I feel some turbulence. But I make it home and quickly pass out.
It’s never actually sleep when you’re that drunk.
Wasn’t till the next morning that I traced my steps and realized my car’s tail end had crashed into someone’s concrete fence. I left a note and my phone number at the house, whose owner had just died, a neighbor told me. The children were now trying to sell the house.
Couple days later, an officer knocks on my door.
“Why didn’t you stop?” she asked.
“It was late and it was raining and no one was home.”
Same thing I told the neighbor.
The officer asks no further questions and issues me a ticket for hit-and-run. A little more than a hundred bucks. The accident totaled my car, but I had full coverage insurance — that I didn’t pay for — which bought me a new car and repaired the destroyed fence.
How many of you have been enabled that way?
Six months later, I wrecked two more cars. But we won’t get into that.
Sunday’s cover story in The Daily Advertiser — an incredibly investigated piece by veteran reporter Claire Taylor — asserts that Lafayette’s “intoxicated drivers rarely face jail time — unless they kill someone.”
Her report quotes ailing parents, like Paula Romero, who have watched their children’s drunken killers get away with “a slap on the wrist.”
A twice-convicted drunken driver killed Romero’s 18-year-old daughter, Shelly, in 2011. She was on her way to babysit after serving as designated driver earlier that evening, and Tyson Dupuis was driving 99.8 mph after a bar fight when he crashed into her car. Shelly died in the hospital two days later.
Dupuis will serve only five years hard labor for her death, although Louisiana’s vehicular homicide law allows for sentences up to 30 years.
The Daily Advertiser’s report further details plea-deal accessibility, including suspended jail time for repeat offenders. Taylor quotes Lafayette District Attorney Mike Harson, saying some repeat offenders slip through the cracks because of technical loopholes like “paperwork requirements” that differ from Lafayette’s and sometimes don’t allow out-of-state convictions to hold up in court.
Although the Lafayette Police Department has clocked the most OWI arrests in the state four years in a row, a look at the daily arrest report shows drunken drivers still infect the streets.
“But football! But Mardi Gras! But I haven’t had that much to drink!”
I hear you. There’s always an excuse when you need one.
But have you considered how every excuse is a departure from personal responsibility? Responsibility to yourself? To your loved ones? To people you’ve never met?
Shelly Romero never once crossed Tyson Dupuis’s mind, until he killed her.
I’d never noticed that home in the Saint Streets, until I crashed into the property and later learned that grieving family’s plight.
It took one OWI, two other alcohol-related arrests, three car accidents and a near-decade of drunken driving before I began to take personal responsibility for that low-life habit. I’m now 25.
Yeah, how many of you started drinking in high school, too? How many of you are drinking underage? How many of you drove drunk last weekend? Last night? Isn’t it all so… easy? You obviously think you can get away with it, and most of you probably will until the split-second that changes your life irreversibly. And maybe takes someone else’s.
To you, crashing on a couch may suck. Waiting 45 minutes for a cab may suck. Finding a ride to your car in the morning may suck.
Or maybe it’s just you.
Get with it.