Jane got a call one night that would permanently alter her marriage. Earlier that evening her husband had been drinking at a business function and was in jail for drunk driving.
“When I got the call, I was hysterical,” says Jane, who was four months pregnant at the time. “I’m normally not an emotional person, but I couldn’t believe he had done that. I was so upset, I worried about damaging the baby.”
Jane, who asked that her name be changed, refused to pick her husband up from jail and made it clear when he made it home the next day that he could expect no pity from her.
“I told him, you play the game, you pay. If you have to go to jail, I don’t feel bad for you,” says Jane, 31, who lives in South Orange County. “I’m strongly against drinking and driving; it’s extremely irresponsible.”
Today, a couple of years later, Jane and her husband have resolved the charges and paid the fines and their lifestyle has changed for the better.
“My husband took full responsibility for what he did and eventually quit drinking all together. I’ve told him, though, that if it ever happens again, I’ll divorce him.”
When someone is arrested for driving under the influence (DUI), the effects are more far reaching than anyone initially realizes; their families are automatically affected, says Sergeant Hal Brotheim, who works in investigations out of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department headquarters in Santa Ana.
“People make their phone call on the speaker phone at the station and you can often hear the anguish and crying on the other end of the line,” he says. “I’ve known of people divorcing over a DUI, although other spouses are supportive. Whatever the circumstances, a DUI strains relationships, causing a loss of trust and embarrassment.”
There is no one particular type of person who drives drunk, says Brotheim.
“From my personal experience working with DUIs, I’d say 50% are male and 50% are female,” he says. “It also runs the gamut socially, financially and ethnically. I’ve arrested people on welfare and others who are very wealthy.”
Although not all people who get a DUI are heavy drinkers, a high percentage are alcoholics, says Michael Farrell, a certified alcohol and drug counselor who runs the Center for Addiction, Recovery and Education (CARE) in Lake Forest.
“The average drunk driver drives under the influence 500 times before getting caught,” says Farrell, whose company offers an alternative sentencing program for first offenders.
Heavy drinking is often a big factor, agrees Barbara Fuller, co-director of CARE. She also works at the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency in Lake Forest in its drinking driver program.
“The person who is caught may be a social drinker who abuses during stressful or fun times; there may also be a family history of alcohol abuse,” says Fuller. “Some young people abuse alcohol for a time, but then they settle down and drinking becomes part of their history.”
Due to harsher laws in recent years, individuals who receive DUIs in California face heavy court fines, loss of their license for up to three years, two weekends in jail, mandatory attendance of alcohol awareness school and counseling. Subsequent arrests bring more severe consequences, including longer periods in jail.
All of these punishments can’t help but burden a person’s family, says Fuller. The DUI can cost thousands of dollars and because public transportation is lacking in Southern California, having a suspended license means other family members must serve as a taxi service.
After waiting a month for sentencing, Jane’s husband lost all driving privileges for four months, which meant she had to drive him everywhere, including halfway to and from work. A co-worker would pick him up and drop him off at a designated point.
“My husband had to attend AA meetings. When I was nine months pregnant, I drove him to the meetings and attended with him,” says Jane, who doesn’t drink. “He couldn’t even drive me and the baby home from the hospital.”
The DUI was also costly. Damage to the car, court and lawyer fees, alcohol school fees, interrupted work and tripled insurance fees totaled more than $5,000.
Carrie also knows too well about the financial repercussions of a DUI. Four years ago her husband got a DUI that cost them $5,000.
“I started dating my husband right after he got the DUI,” says Carrie, 34, who works in Buena Park and asked that her real name not be used. “Although we recently paid off the DUI, we’re still struggling to recover financially,” she says.
Her husband had his license suspended for two years, which meant she had to drive him everywhere.
“For the first two years of our relationship, I was Miss Taxi,” says Carrie, who doesn’t drink. “I had to take him to work and pick him up everyday. It got exhausting and really irritating. There were many times when I thought, if he hadn’t been drinking and driving, I wouldn’t have to drive him around.”
Carrie says that when they were first dating and he told her about the DUI, she found the concept frightening.
“The whole idea of getting involved with someone who had a DUI was alarming,” says Carrie, whose former husband was an alcoholic.
For a long time, and even now, Carrie has difficulty believing that it won’t happen again.
“Although my husband isn’t a heavy drinker, every time I see him pick up an alcoholic beverage, I wonder. I’ll probably always worry about him losing control and drinking and driving again.”
Despite the fact that Mike’s father was killed by a drunk driver when Mike was four years old, the 30-year-old carpenter used to drink and drive.
“When I was caught drinking and driving, I had it coming to me,” he says. “I’m the kind of person who pushes the limits and I needed a slap on the hand.”
His slap on the hand amounted to rolling his truck and injuring himself and his passenger. Mike had a broken back and his friend broke two ribs and lost teeth.
The accident and DUI cost him about $7,000. Despite full insurance on his new truck, it was totaled and he still owed the car company $3,000. He also paid court fines, had to attend a drunk driving program and receive counseling and had his license suspended for one year.
Fortunately for Mike, his relationships didn’t suffer much. He is still close to his friend who was also in the accident. Mike’s insurance company paid for treatment of his friend’s injuries, which included extensive dental work.
And though they had broken up, his former girlfriend came back to help him when she heard about the accident.
“My girlfriend was mortified I had been in an accident,” he says. “She came to the hospital and was very supportive. After I went home, she took care of me and drove me around. She wanted to marry me, although we ended up not getting married.”
Since his DUI, Mike rarely drinks and never drives when he’s been drinking.
“If I’m going somewhere where I might drink, I bring my sleeping bag and pillow,” he says.
Adam was also in an alcohol-related accident and got a DUI when he was 18. After spending 14 hours in jail, he was released and greeted by a shocked, yet supportive girlfriend.
“My girlfriend said, you’ll work it out. At least you’re not hurt,” says Adam, a musician living in Tustin, who is now 25. “She wanted to see me get through the whole thing and move on.”
His mother wasn’t as accepting, however.
“My mom was very angry,” he says. “She had given me the truck; she knew the insurance would be dropping me and that there was a big deductible to pay before getting it fixed. She also wanted to know exactly what was going on with me and why it had happened. I felt like I had lost her confidence and trust.”
Adam had to borrow money from his mother to cover the expenses for court, a lawyer, alcohol school, truck repair and increased insurance, which totaled about $5,000.
“When I borrowed the money, she never let me forget I was borrowing,” he says. “It’s been six years now, and I think I’ve regained her trust. Every time I leave the house, though, she always reminds me not to drink and drive.”
The experience was not lost on Adam, however. “The year after the DUI was hell,” he says, noting that he lost his license for a year, and couldn’t drive to and from work for six months.
“The good thing was being arrested woke me up to drinking and driving,” he says. “Now if I’ve been drinking, I never get behind the wheel.”