Rise in DUI cases sparks concern of police, counselors | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Rise in DUI cases sparks concern of police, counselors

Drinking and driving at South Shore is on the rise, said Scott Wheeler, DUI coordinator at Sierra Recovery Center.

Right now the recovery center has 140 court-ordered clients whom they educate and counsel for a period of months. Many have been convicted of drunk driving multiple times.

“Second DUIs are very costly,” Wheeler said. “That can mean time in jail and sometimes they will see prison out of it. I have three clients now who are in state prison.”

In 1997, according to government statistics, alcohol was involved in 38.6 of all traffic fatalities in the nation, which translates to 16,189 deaths. In California in 1998, 3,494 people died in traffic accidents, 2,648 of which were alcohol-related, according to the U. S. Department of Transportation. A traffic fatality is considered alcohol-related when a driver involved had a blood alcohol content of .01 or greater.

Wheeler, a recovering alcoholic, has been a full-time counselor at South Shore for four years.

“I stopped drinking 15 years ago after having numerous DUIs myself,” he said. “My last DUI was the last time I drank. I was an alcoholic and I didn’t know how to stop. When I stopped drinking my whole life changed. You can go from someone who pumps gas to the owner of a gas station.”

An airline consultant for 18 years, Wheeler went into a long-term recovery program in New York to stop drinking. He has been counseling on and off since then.

“We don’t do this for the money,” he said. “This is real.”

What’s also real is that 45 percent of the people counseled about alcohol at the recovery center return because they drive drunk again.

“I tell them that and they get so angry,” he said. “There’ll be six people at the table and I’ll look at them and say three of you will be back. Couple years go by and they’re back.”

Wheeler said denial is what causes many people to drive drunk more than once. Even after all the education and counseling, they go out, take a drink and their judgment skills disappear.

“Once you break through denial, you’ve got it licked,” he said. “But when you’re drinking, all your decision making skills go out the window. You’re going to decide to drive home when you can’t even walk. The number one thing to take judgment is alcohol. It goes very quick.”

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