As we wrap up our week long look at drinking and driving, there's a message some groups across eastern Carolina want to send. Reducing or stopping drinking and driving isn't just the job of law enforcement.
Tanya Roberts with the Coastal Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention says, "People need to start making the right decisions so they don't get to the court system. What we want is for people to start taking responsibility at an earlier age and everyone around them to take responsibility."
The coalition's focus isn't so much about changing laws as it is about changing they way people think. Particularly with the youth. "We want those kids that are coming along to make those changes as they're becoming adults and for them to become aware of these issues and not start a pattern of destructive behavior."
It's a similar message at Greenville's Restart, a behavioral health care provider. Clinical supervisor Richard Boswell says, "If we can become more involved in the education and prevention of substance abuse then we will go a long ways towards taking people off the streets who may drink and drive."
And its why restart is expanding its services and developing programs to address that need.
The coastal coalition has youth involved from all of the counties it serves, raising awareness among their peers. Among the messages they want to send...drinking and driving of course can be dangerous and deadly, but it can also be costly. Research shows the cost to a community where a drunk driving death occurs is 4.9 million dollars per accident.
The coalition is also working on a new campaign it expects to roll out soon with a new twist on the theme "responsible drinking." It wants people to look at consuming alcohol from the health perspective. Just like eating too much of the wrong foods can be bad for our bodies, too much alcohol is damaging as well. The guidelines recommend for those who choose to drink, and are medically and legally able to do so, one drink per female per day, two drinks per male per day.
While law enforcement officials work on making the roadways safer, and lawmakers consider tougher laws, community organizations say part of the key to the drunk driving epidemic, lies with all of us. The coalition's Anne Hardison says, "If people don't understand it's affecting them and their communities they need to open their eyes. You're paying for it someway, somehow."
You can find contact information for the groups mentioned above, and others, in the related links section below.
Lives lost, lives destroyed, all because of drinking and driving. We've seen it from the victims and the offenders perspectives this week. As we continue our week long look at the impact of drunk driving in eastern Carolina, we have one simple question. Are North Carolina laws tough enough to make drivers think twice before getting out on the roads after they've been drinking?
District Attorney Seth Edwards, who prosecutes cases in Beaufort, Martin, Washington, Tyrrell, and Hyde counties, believes mandatory jail time could go a long way in preventing drunk driving. Edwards says, "I think with a first time offense a person convicted of DWI should go to jail for a period of time. I would certainly hope that for the large majority of people that would have a deterrent effect."
And it might surprise you to hear that one attorney who represents people charged with DWI, doesn't think it's entirely a bad idea. Greenville attorney Bart Brown says, "Maybe put it out there as a possibility, but not necessarily mandate it."
Edwards also supports the recent law requiring drivers convicted with a blood alcohol concentration of .15 or higher, to install an ignition interlock system before they're allowed to drive. It's similar to a breathalyzer, and their vehicle won't start if it detects alcohol. There's a proposal to extend that to anyone convicted of DWI who's under 21, or anyone who refuses to take a breath alcohol test. Edwards says, "For a large majority of people that I do believe would abide by that device, I think that does contribute to the safety of our public." Brown commented, "Maybe they can implement this that it pleases everyone involved constitutionally, and if you could do that I guess that would be fine."
But beyond punishment, there's one other component to drunk driving laws both Brown and Edwards think needs to be addressed...The issue of rehabilitation. Edwards says, "Prison or jail time doesn't rehabilitate, that is for punishment purposes. Hopefully a mandatory jail term would serve as a deterrent, but it won't take the place of education and treatment."
In fact, Edwards says he believes money would be well spent in North Carolina to put into more treatment programs for alcoholics or any type of substance abuse.
Friday on WITN News at Six...how community groups and substance abuse providers are working to stop drunk driving.
Drunk driving arrests can take place anytime and anywhere. But typically, more people are driving drunk at night.
As we continue our week long look at drunk driving in eastern Carolina, we headed out with NC Highway Patrol, and officers from police and sheriff's departments in Craven and Jones Counties.
Officers set up a checkpoint at the Craven/Jones County line with the mission to get drunk drivers off the road.
Sergeant Richard Willis of the Highway Patrol in Craven County says checkpoints like these have resulted in 22 DWI arrests in Craven County so far this year.
Authorities made arrest number 23 when we were with them. Highway patrol charged 20 year-old Brian Kiester with DWI, underage drinking, having an open container, and underage possession.
Jones County Trooper J.J. Zamora says Kiester registered a .13 blood alcohol concentration. The legal limit is .08. Trooper Zamora says Kiester told him he is a Camp Lejeune Marine who was headed from the base to a house in New Bern. Zamora says a drink in Kiester's cup holder turned out to be a mixture of Dr. Pepper and Everclear...a grain alcohol with an extremely high alcoholic content.
Zamora says Kiester had just finished a substance abuse program at Camp Lejeune and now faces being kicked out of the Marine Corps. The trooper also says Kiester apologized to him, telling the trooper how he recently lost a friend to a drunk driver, and now he is charged with DWI.
Camp Lejeune officials say Kiester is still on active duty. A decision about whether to separate him from the Marines won't be made until they determine if other options, such as more counseling, would be more appropriate.
Why would someone decide to drink and drive? That's just one of the many questions we had for inmates locked up after being convicted of DWI multiple times.
As we continue our week long look at the issue of drinking and driving, we headed to Greene Correctional Institution in Maury and talked with several inmates.
John Carpenter, 58 years-old, knows the toll of drinking and driving. He owned a dental lab for 25 years before his fourth DWI conviction got him locked up. "You can lose your whole life. It amounts to losing wives, it amounts to losing money, it amounts to losing homes. Even if you don't kill somebody."
For others, like 38 year-old Ralph Gallagher, It's all about what drunk driving has done to his family. Gallagher says, "We're going through a difficult time right now and I probably will lose my marriage over this."
Luke Broderick, 31 years-old, was once a promising junior engineering student at NC State. That was until his fourth conviction. His first came when he was just 17.Broderick can only think of what could have been. "Definitely put things on hold. I'd much rather be in a different position right now than I am."
So with so much at stake, and knowing the consequences, why did these men put it all on the line by drinking and driving… multiple times?
Charles King, 62 years-old, who got in his car after drinking to head a few blocks down the road to the store, says its very simple. "I guess the alcohol said why don't you get in that car and drive it. There it is sitting right there. Just drive it on up there. It's Friday, it's pretty, you're only going a few blocks. Come on, get in the car and drive. So that's what the alcohol does to people."
And these men, many who acknowledge they're alcoholics, say while DWI offenders need to be punished, they believe it would be wise for the state to invest more in rehabilitation, above what's offered through the prison Alcoholics Anonymous program.
King says drunk drivers should be forced to do what he agreed to do willingly. "What I'm doing here in front of a TV camera, maybe everyone should have to do this. Let people take a look at him. Say there he is. He's the one. Look at him. He hates to be sitting there probably. Look at him. You might see him somewhere. Tell him. Might save a life."
Close to 11,000 people have lost their lives in drunk driving accidents across the country this year. In North Carolina, the latest statistics available show 433 people were killed in 2008.
All this week on WITN News at 6:00 p.m. we're taking a look the the devastating effects of drinking and driving.
Lynn Stroud knows the pain of losing a loved one first hand. Her father and brother were killed by a drunk driver in Greenville in 2001. They were headed home to a birthday party in Lenoir County from work in Pennsylvania when it happened. She says the pain remains with her family to this day.
Stroud says the tragedy was made all the worse when the driver, Timmy Speight, was only found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to four-years in prison. Speight was charged with second degree murder. An investigation revealed he had a blood alcohol content of point 13, over the legal limit of point 08. He also tested positive for drugs.
Stroud says, "There's not too many days that I don't get up and ya know, something throughout the course of that day that I don't think about my daddy."
Stroud now works in the Pitt County District Attorney's office as an advocate for DWI victims. That means helping families that may be enduring the same heartache as her family. That pain, she says, is evident at the cemetery where her father and brother are buried. To this day, she says, they still haven't been able to take the final step of placing headstones there. Stroud says, "Life as we know it is gone."
Be sure to tune in Tuesday for WITN News at 6:00 p.m. as we talk with inmates convicted of DWI.