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Wheels & Heels: Georgia Player's DUI Could Have Cost More than a Game

The suspended football player should not get his license back until he installs an ignition interlock or in-car breathalyzer.

When my daughter, a Decatur High School graduate, attended orientation at the University of Georgia this summer, the college emphasized -- repeatedly -- the dangers of drinking.

Apparently the football players weren't paying attention.

According to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story, one of the Bulldogs' key defensive players is going to miss at least the next two football games because he was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.

Driving while intoxicated is bad enough, but the story by Tim Tucker and Chip Towers reports that Cornelius Washington was clocked at driving 92 mph in a 55-mph zone when Commerce police stopped him about 20 miles north of Athens.

What appalls me most about this story is that he reportedly feels sick that he let his team down. As if missing a couple of games is the real tragedy here. Boo-hoo.

No, Mr. Washington and Coach Mark Richt, that's not the tragedy here. This player's behavior could have killed someone, up to and including himself and the three passengers in his car, including the 20-year-old arrested for underage consumption of alcohol.

Being dead means you miss all the rest of the season, Mr. Washington. Consider the fate of another college athlete from Georgia over the weekend, also in his junior year.

Matthew Benjamin Dyas, 20, played golf for the University of West Georgia and was riding a motorcycle outside the Carrollton college's football stadium Saturday. A car driven by an Allenhurst woman struck and killed him. She was arrested on a charge of first-degree vehicular homicide and DUI, according to the Carrollton Times-Georgian. Dyas was from Acworth and majoring in finance.

Guess which story was on the front of the AJC sports section?

Almost daily I see the mug shots of people in DeKalb County who have been arrested and booked for drunk driving. We depend so much on automobiles to get around this big town, we completely forget how dangerous they can be.

According to a new CDC Vital Signs report, adults drank too much and got behind the wheel about 112 million times in 2010. Men were responsible for four out of every five drunk driving episodes, and young men -- 21 to 34 -- were responsible for about a third of all drunk driving episodes.

At Mr. Washington's blood alcohol level, reported at 0.12, he would have had a markedly slower reaction time, difficulty braking and staying in lane. All while driving a a 4,000 pounds at 92 mph.

Most drunk drivers have driven while drunk 87 times before they are first arrested, according to the 1995 National Survey of Drinking and Driving Attitudes and Behavior cited by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Here are some other sobering statistics:

  • One in three people will be involved in an alcohol-related crash in their lifetime. - National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • This year, 10,839 people will die in drunk-driving crashes - one every 50 minutes. - 2008 Traffic Safety Annual Assessment, NHTSA
  • Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens and one out of three of those is alcohol related. - NHTSA
  • High school students who use alcohol or other substances are five times more likely to drop out of school or believe good grades are not important.
  • One in five teens binge drink. Only one in 100 parents believes his or her teen binge drinks.
  • Among all Georgia high school students, 37.7 percent reported current alcohol use and 19 percent reported binge drinking in the past 30 days, according to the CDC.

When you drink too much and get behind the wheel of a car, you're aiming a loaded gun at strangers, and maybe your own head. You may make it home unscathed, but you're playing a game of Russian Roulette with a 5,000-pound hunk of metal hurtling down the road at highway speed.

Suspension from a few games? Mr. Washington's driver's license should be suspended and he should have to undergo mandatory substance abuse counseling, including spending an hour with the family member of someone who died in a drunk driving accident.

As a condition of getting his license back, he should be required to install an ignition interlock or in-car breathalyzer that would prevent him from driving a vehicle while intoxicated.

The CDC Vital Signs report released this week says requiring such car devices for all convicted drunk drivers is a proven, effective strategy to prevent drunk driving.

Georgia law allows drivers to apply for ignition interlocks a year after losing their license after their second DUI. According to the Georgia Department of Driver Services, to get the interlock, the driver must prove they've completed a "DUI alcohol or drug risk reduction program, clinical evaluation, enrollment in treatment or completion of treatment if required by evaluation and installation of an interlock device."

At the end of driving with a "six-month ignition interlock device limited-driving permit," the driver may apply to get their driver's license reinstated.

Second conviction? Why not first conviction? That's what MADD National President Jan Withers advocates.

“MADD calls on states to strengthen their existing interlock laws by requiring all first-time convicted drunk driving offenders with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or greater to have an ignition interlock installed on their vehicle," said Withers in a MADD press release.

I don't want drunk drivers aiming their cars at me, my children or anybody else. Do you?

mhawkm October 07, 2011 at 03:39 PM
This is a shameful and misguided editorial. The writer makes a very good point, but exposes the fault with her reasoning without realizing she has lost all credibility as a result of her bias. In short, she has pre-judged the guilt of this citizen based solely upon allegations made by the police and reported by the media. We do not live in a police state. The police do not determine guilt or innocence. That role is left to our judicial system. Our citizens are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The writer presumes a person guilty until proven innocent. How unfortunate for an otherwise articulate writer. The Constitution of the United States mandates that no citizen shall be found guilty of a crime unless and until the State proves their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It very weel may be that this football player is guilty as charged, the court sytem will reveal that, but many of us in the community still think that the Constitution means something; that we have soldiers who have died to protect these rights; that it is just and proper that our system of laws provides that the police do not make the final decision on who is guilty and who is innocent. It is wrong and unlawful to drive drunk, but it is also wrong and contrary to our law to presume guilt. There is no hiding it, the writer has acted as police, prosecutor, and judge, based solely upon some news articles she read, and made up her mind about the guilt of this citizen. Shameful and misguided.
Deanne October 07, 2011 at 04:37 PM
mhawkm- The writer is shameful and misguided? Your judgement of Diane seems prettty harsh. Your point about innocent until proved guilty is a good one. However, since the player regrets having let down his team, and his coach concluded that benching him was called for, there doesn't seem to be a dispute about the facts in the police report. (It also seems like it'd be more effective to privately email the writer and request that an "alleged" be inserted. Nicer too.) Diane- Good, thought provoking article. I always look forward to Wheels & Heels!
mhawkm October 08, 2011 at 07:52 PM
Deanne - you are right - shameful is too harsh. I actually thought I had taken that out before I hit send, but it made it through. I firmly believe the view expressed is, and always will be, misguided. Those who judge others, perhaps the way my judgment was too harsh by calling it shameful, by presuming the worst in them, is contrary to fundamentals of humanity, and in this case to one of the most important principles our democracy is founded upon - the presumption of innocence. Don't mistake what has taken place for what still has to play out in the justice system - an apology for letting down your team and being benched is the result of an arrest, not a conviction. You are once again on the mark when you suggest that inserting the word "alleged", as is mandated by just about every professional news organization when reporting an arrest, would have done the trick, and we very well may never have had this exchange. Drive safe and sober, and please remember those who fought for our most basic constitutional rights.
Diane Loupe October 09, 2011 at 01:07 PM
I probably should have used a few allegeds, but it's difficult for me to imagine imagine how a person can be innocent when they were driving a car clocked at 92 mph, and whose breath demonstrates evidence of intoxication. Add to that, a public apology and game suspension. UGA doesn't presume this player was innocent, since the player was suspended, and his apology doesn't allege that the police lied or he was set up. Would Mr. Mhawkm care to let Mr. Washington drive him around on a Saturday night? Also, most professional news organizations prefer that letter writers identify themselves and not use pseudonymns when tossing around epithets. But, I have a pretty good idea who this letter writer is. I read his blog all the time.

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