Heroes Don’t Drive Drunk

By Jeffrey Page

I never met Jim Farrell, the district attorney of Sullivan County, but he’s now on my imaginary list of people I’d like to have over for dinner along with Jackie Robinson, Clarence Darrow, Shakespeare. You know what I mean. Farrell, for no other reason than he seems to be one of those rare public officials who refuses to mince words.

My admiration came to light this week when I read about Farrell’s reaction to a judge’s remarks as he sentenced a man Farrell had prosecuted. County Judge Frank LaBuda reasoned that if you’re two years shy of the legal drinking age, and if you nevertheless drink to the point where your blood alcohol level is 50 percent higher than the statutory limit, and if you smash your car into a tree, you somehow become “a hero” for getting two passengers out of the burning wreckage even if you’ve killed your third passenger who, it turned out, was your cousin.

LaBuda noted that driving drunk was “a mistake” on the motorist’s part. Now, I can understand the defendant’s family rallying around him with this dubious argument about “mistakes” and “heroes.” I might offer it myself in a similar circumstance. But the judge?

Charles Wolff, 19, had pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter and driving while under the influence of alcohol and marijuana, the Times Herald-Record reported. On the night of the crash, his blood alcohol level was 0.12 percent.

(The legal limit in all states is 0.08 percent, but this doesn’t indicate sobriety. Imagine you weigh 180 pounds and you drink four bloody Marys in one hour, and the world starts spinning out of control and you’re having a little trouble remaining vertical. Guess what. Your blood alcohol level would be 0.08 percent, according to a BAL calculator – www.ou.edu/oupd/bac.htm – offered by the University of Oklahoma.)

It was sentencing day for Wolff, and some of the pleas LaBuda heard could be expected. They were the words people use to describe their kin in the hope of getting a dose of mercy from a judge.

“He is a good kid,” said the father of the cousin who died. The father of one of the injured friends also asked for a sentence of probation and no jail time. So did the other injured friend.

Then Judge LaBuda described Wolff as “a hero” for having rescued his two friends from the crash. He declined the family’s requests for a strictly probationary sentence, and, having the option of sending Wolff away for seven years, sent him to the county jail for six months.

“Even a hero who makes mistakes, there must be accountability for our actions,” said LaBuda, according to a story in the Times Herald-Record. “There must be incarceration when life is lost.”

Farrell was having none of it.

“I would certainly take issue with the judge’s definition of [Wolff] as ‘a hero.’ He is not a hero,” Farrell said. “He caused the death of his cousin.”

One of these days, society is going to take drunken driving seriously. It will begin with an understanding that forgetting to pay a parking ticket is a mistake. Driving drunk into a tree and killing your cousin is a felony.



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3 Responses to “Heroes Don’t Drive Drunk”

  1. Michael Kaufman Says:

    You and Mr. Farrell are right, of course, Jeff. I think the judge should have said exactly what you said. But what do you think an appropriate sentence would be in this case?

  2. Jeffrey Says:

    How about 7 years?

  3. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    we continue to embrace a culture of drinking and that is why judges go so lightly on sentencing for dwi/manslaughter. I wouldn’t say seven years but certainly more than 6 months and lots of community service. this kid should also be required to enter into a substance abuse diversion program.

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