Thursday, May 10, 2012

Learn from Jane's dilemma, don't drink and drive

There but for the grace of God go I, along with a whole lot of other people.   And oh yeah, come to think of it a bunch of us have already gone there.  It just didn’t get widely reported – if at all -- the way it did with NBC Channel 5 KXAS-TV anchor Jane McGarry who was arrested on suspicion of DUI in the early Sunday morning hours of May 6.

McGarry unfortunately attracted the attention of a state trooper as she was traveling on the North Dallas Tollway in the area of Lemmon Avenue when she changed lanes and reportedly failed to activate her turn signal. One report I read said McGarry was traveling south and another said she was headed north so the only thing that can safely be assumed is that she was in fact on the tollway and not headed out of a bar parking lot somewhere. The trooper recorded in his statement that she was driving a 2007 Porsche, and that upon exit from it she talked in a loud voice, exhibited bloodshot, droopy eyes and swayed a bit.

McGarry reportedly acknowledged having consumed three glasses of wine, and you know how that goes. It could have been twice as many. At any rate she failed the field sobriety tests, and presumably said, “No thank you,” when they asked her to blow on a breathalyzer. Upon her refusal, they administered a mandatory blood test that probably left her swaying even more in her high heels.

McGarry did recover enough during booking to smile pleasantly for her mug shot, and it’s a good thing she did. The picture has now circulated from coast to coast and across the seas. Since her arrest I’ve noticed datelines in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. The International Business Times reported it, and to top it all off the Christian Post weighed in on the anchor’s disgrace, reporting on an online debate about whether she deserved to be immediately fired.

No doubt if McGarry hears about this column, she will likely say something to the effect of, “Good grief, even the gay newspaper is reporting it.” I imagine about now the anchor is probably wishing that she had opted for a quiet evening at home rather than whatever it was she did.

The news of the award-winning, 56-year-old anchor’s arrest was first broken by the competing Channel 8 WFAA-TV station and The Dallas Morning News, which through their mutual association with the Belo Corp. cooperate on news reports. Other television stations apparently chose not to report her arrest, but by late Monday Channel 5 reported in its newscast McGarry had been arrested and would remain off the air for the time being while it investigates.

The Dallas Observer of course weighed in with a snide comment about her “simply delightful” mugshot as it is prone to do. In fact, if it hadn’t it would have lead everyone to think the editors were all passed out under their desks and not doing their jobs.

The most amazing part of the whole story to me though is that McGarry’s arrest has attracted so much attention from so far away. DUI arrests are more than common, they are ubiquitous, pervasive and critical to the financial survival of the nation’s criminal justice system, which provides jobs for so many Americans. They are money makers to be sure, as McGarry is about to find out as she starts writing checks to her lawyer.

The FBI’s “2010 Crime in the United States” report revealed there were 1.09 million people arrested on DUI charges that year, the latest year for which the information is available. That represented about 11 percent of the total 10.2 million arrests in the nation that year. The information was gathered from 12,222 law enforcement agencies representing a total national population of 240.1 million people.

Only drug abuse violations at 1.27 million and property crimes at 1.29 million surpassed the number of DUI arrests in 2010.

The truth is that if all the law enforcement officers, journalists, appointed and elected officials and lawyers who were all legally intoxicated at the same time got arrested at once the few sober city officials left standing would have to open the convention center to get everybody booked in and safely put away for the night.

It is practically impossible for most people to go out and have several drinks and not register above the legal intoxication level which in Texas is .08 blood alcohol content. Anyone who tries to do all of the calculations involving the number of drinks consumed versus the amount of time it takes for the body to rid itself of the alcohol is going to wind up with a headache not necessarily related to a hangover. Lose count anywhere along the line, and you’re screwed.

If the possibility of arrest is not enough to scare drinkers away from driving, consider that in 2010 10,228 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes nationwide, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Of those accidents, 6,627 or 65 percent of the drivers had blood alcohol levels exceeding .08 percent, which is the legal limit in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The best bet is just not to get behind the wheel, period, and beware of designated drivers who promise not to drink and wind up doing it anyway. Take a cab when you go out so you don’t have to make a decision later that inevitably will be the wrong one after a few drinks are consumed. If you can’t afford a cab, you can’t afford to go out because you sure can’t afford the consequences. The next best option would be to live close enough to your favorite bar to walk to and from there.

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