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Prison a good place for perpetually drunken driver



Published: Wed, November 14, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Curtis Sears of Dayton, now awaiting trial for what could be his 19th drunken driving conviction, argues that putting him in prison isn't the answer. "If they want to help me," he said, "they need to help find out the reason why I keep going back to drinking all the time." Perhaps five years in the slammer -- besides getting him off the streets -- will give Sears the opportunity to take some personal responsibility for his condition.

There will certainly be occasions in prison for him to learn how to deal with his alcoholism -- if he chooses to take advantage of them -- especially if he's sent to the North Coast Correctional Facility, the new state prison for repeat substance abuse offenders in Grafton.

But countless other times in rehabilitation programs and other times behind bars -- of the steel door variety, not the purveyors of the beer Sears says he has to have -- has done nothing to change his behavior or his attitude.

For as Alcoholics Anonymous explains about its organization, the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. And Sears doesn't evince any inclination to change. A.A. makes clear that "The important thing is to face the facts of one's illness and to take advantage of the help that is available. There must also be a desire to get well."

Won't change: Sears doesn't want to get well. He'd rather blame his tragic childhood and tragic life for all of his problems. He refuses to acknowledge that many people have found ways to deal with the tragedies of their lives without turning to the bottle and risking the lives of others.

Despite his 18 convictions, Sears has yet to injure himself or others in a traffic crash. We say "yet" because the odds he has beaten so far are not on his side. His continued danger to the public demands that he be incarcerated.

After Sears was sent to jail for a year after his 18th drunken driving conviction since 1979, Warren County Common Pleas Judge P. Daniel Fedders said he wished he could have sent him to the penitentiary. But at the time, a one-year jail sentence was the maximum allowable sentence. The judge also fined Sears $10,000, suspended his driver's license for life and ordered the forfeiture of the car he was driving.

All to little avail.

Now, however, the fourth drunken driving conviction in five years can mean five years in state prison under a law passed last year to try to get chronic drunken drivers like Sears off the roads.

Perhaps years doing hard time, rather than serving months as a jail trusty, will impress upon Sears the need to deal with his problem.

Whatever it costs to keep Sears locked up is cheaper than the alternative.




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