DUI Diversion Program appears to be working - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

DUI Diversion Program appears to be working

By Chris McGill - bio | email

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Each year the Jefferson County Attorney's office prosecutes over 3,000 driving under the influence crimes. Many of these involve first time offenders. In an effort to heighten awareness of the potentially tragic consequences of drinking and driving, and to prevent re-offenders, the County Attorney's office has developed the DUI Diversion Program.

Robert Fleck, Assistant Jefferson County Attorney, has been overseeing the program since its inception about two years ago.

"We've tried to blend punishment, rehabilitation and education into this program in an attempt to cut down on repeat offenders," Fleck said.

The program includes a victim impact session where convicted DUI offenders listen to attorneys, police officers, members of MADD and the deputy coroner. Each speaker reminds the attendees of the dangers they've put themselves and others in by driving while intoxicated.

Deputy Coroner Larry Carroll helps bring the message home that drinking and driving can kill, and he emphasizes that point by taking offenders on a walk to the city morgue.

"The hardest thing that we have to do as deputy coroners is actually make notifications," Carroll said, adding that it's "by far the hardest thing."

Sgt. Kevin Hamlin with the Louisville Metro Police Traffic Division spoke at a recent impact session. He told the story of how he made the decision join the DUI Task force after witnessing a tragic crash on Interstate 64 in Louisville. That wreck killed a father and his two children. The man's wife, who was driving the car, survived.

Hamlin said the drunk driver that caused the wreck was going the wrong way on I-64 when he ran head-on into the victim's van.

"He's so intoxicated," Hamlin said, "he doesn't even know he's been in an accident, and he doesn't know why he has to sit in the backseat of a police car."

Representatives of Mothers Against Drunk Driving take the participants through three different tragic stories of wrecks caused by alcohol. At this particular session, Penny Clark and her sister Patricia McCollum tell the story of losing their brother to a drunk driver several years ago. McCollum remembers vividly how she was told by police of her brother's death.

"And the officer looked at me and said, 'Ma'am, Ms. McCollum, I hate to inform you but your brother is gone." She and her sister went on to explain how that fateful day will affect their lives forever.

The program appears to be working after two years, according to Fleck.

"People who go through this program re-offend at the rate of one out of every 100 whereas people who do not go through this program re-offend at the rate of one out of every seven."

Fleck says there's a simple reason for the disparity in numbers.

"Because they don't understand the human cost involved with driving under the influence - the fact that every 30 minutes someone is killed by an impaired driver is hammered home in this program," Fleck said.

"You've gotta realize you can't drink and drive, because it's like a loaded weapon." That's the message from a program graduate who wants to remain anonymous, so we'll refer to him as "Paul."

Paul's blood alcohol level was a .10 at the time of his arrest in 2005. He had been out on a casual date with friends and realized after it was too late that he had a few more drinks than he should have.

Since it was his first offense and he had no previous major convictions, he was allowed to participate in the DUI Diversion Program. Under Fleck's guidance, Paul feels he was able to learn from his mistakes that night.

"It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that it is cheaper to get a cab home and have to get a ride back for your car the next day than it is to have to go through any part of this," said Paul.

The year-long program requires offenders who are accepted to pay a fee, attend the five-hour victim impact session, complete drug and alcohol assessment classes and attend a MADD candlelight vigil.

Along with those requirements, participants also must perform 40 hours of volunteer work and 12 hours of community service, such as cleaning up Waterfront Park after Thunder Over Louisville.

Paul was affected by the program in such a positive way that he now speaks to offenders at the victim impact sessions.

"I've spoken to probably six of those classes," Paul said. "And if I didn't believe the program had good cause and a good basis I wouldn't. And If I didn't think that Bob had the belief in the program that he does, then I don't believe that I would have ever been associated with the program again. I would have done it and been finished with it."

Paul has advice for those who find themselves in a situation where they may have had too much to drink. He says it's much easier to call a friend or a cab to take you home than it would be to find yourself involved in a crash that could possibly take someone's life, if not your own.

Paul is one of about 630 individuals to graduate from the DUI Diversion Program. Out of that number, only six have been in front of a judge again for a drinking and driving offense.

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