City man apologizes for hiding OVI ticket, gets treatment for alcoholism
By Ashley Luthern
Benito Velazquez Jr. knew he made a mistake.
Velazquez, 38, of Youngstown, was a deputy clerk at Mahoning County Area Court in Boardman. He received a ticket for operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol March 5, and when the Ohio State Highway Patrol turned in the ticket to Boardman court March 7, Velazquez panicked.
“I wanted to tell my supervisor, but I didn’t know how to. I was afraid. ... I put it on my desk because I was a mess,” he said.
It was not his first OVI offense, either. He received an OVI ticket from the highway patrol in October.
Velazquez, who first sought treatment for depression and alcoholism Feb. 10, said he still “hadn’t hit rock bottom.”
On March 14, he did.
He got a call from a fellow employee that the chief deputy clerk for Mahoning County clerk was on her way to Boardman court. He swallowed 90 Tylenol PM pills, logged into Facebook and posted a goodbye. Friends saw it and called police, but before officers arrived, Velazquez said he confided in a friend who took him to the hospital.
“I was in the hospital, and they were trying to pump my stomach, and I fought with them,” he said. “I didn’t want them to put that tube down my throat. I told them ‘Please let me die.’”
Over the next several days, Velazquez contemplated suicide, even thinking of ways he could gather enough sheets to hang himself. Each time he began to act on his thoughts, a nurse, doctor or visitor would come into his room.
He was released from the hospital March 19, and resigned April 10 after nearly eight years of county employment. About a month after his resignation, Velazquez pleaded guilty to OVI and no contest to obstructing official business. Atty. Gerald Ingram represented Velazquez in court.
Velazquez said he got through the experience with the support of his mother, Nercy Santana, and sister, Betsy Velazquez, and several friends, including Atty. Susan Maruca.
“My heart went out to him,” Maruca said. “A month before he sought treatment on his own. ... He realized how broken he was, and he attempted to hide this part of his life, his imperfections.”
Maruca offered Velazquez, who worked for her a decade earlier, a paralegal position at her downtown office and he accepted.
“I’m so proud of him,” Maruca said. “I see nothing for him to be embarrassed about.”
The two also serve together on the Organizacion Civica y Cultural Hispana Americana board of directors. Velazquez was president but has temporarily stepped down.
Velazquez said he undergoes therapy sessions daily, saying lasting change won’t be an “overnight thing.”
The first and most important step for people with an addiction is to admit they have a problem, said Candy Kacvinsky, program director at the Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinic in Youngstown.
“If you don’t acknowledge it, you can’t get help for it. ...Not to say that once you admit it, it’s easy street. You still have to do the work. You have to change your whole lifestyle,” she said.
Kacvinsky said that depression and alcohol create a cycle.
“People often with depression, not realizing they will get more depressed, are drinking and self-medicating to get that good feeling. If you’re addicted, you don’t have a shutoff valve and the cycle keeps repeating itself,” she said.
Velazquez said he was depressed, drinking to fall asleep most nights. Now he’s treating his addiction seriously and said he’s sorry for how his actions affected his family, friends, the clerk of courts office and the highway patrol.
He has enrolled at Youngstown State University to complete a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and plans to continue working for Maruca.
“I’m ready to take life back,” he said.