Tragedy leads to questions about drunk driving


by Tia Platteborze,  Lauren Lasko,  Ashley Longtine,  Eliina Kangas, Abby Pierce, and Emilee Solka.

Back in October, the town of Ishpeming experienced a tragedy involving a thirteen-year-old boy, a trip to Green Bay, and an alleged drunk driver. This tragedy has affected the whole town including, of course, the reporters from the

8-18 Media Ishpeming Bureau, several of whom knew the victim.

The loss of a friend and classmate brought up questions among some of us that hadn’t been considered before, along with explanations that probably shouldn’t have to be considered at such a young age.

To get some of our questions answered, we turned to Corporal Elmer Rinehart of the Marquette County Sheriff’s Department. Corporal Rinehart has worked with the department for thirty-one years, and in that time has worked in a variety of situations. He’s done everything from work in the jail, worked with an undercover narcotics unit, trained other officers in sobriety testing, plus he has a lot of experience as an accident investigator.

8:18 Media: why do you think drinking and driving continues to be a problem?

Rinehart: Because people continue to drink and they continue to get in their cars and drive after they have been drinking. They don’t understand how much it actually affects them, or they think they are immune from the consequences.

8-18 Media: You tell us that law enforcement officers now call drunken driving incidents “crashes” instead of “accidents,” why?

sheriff-col-interviewRinehart: When somebody has that much to drink, they make the conscious decision to drive it’s no longer an accident. It’s a crash. So we call them drunk driving crashes now. An accident is when something unexpected happens. When you have that much to drink and you’re driving, it’s kind of expected something bad is going to happen. They do continue, they are horrible, and basically senseless. There is no need for them.

8-18 Media: Is it reality or just a fable that drunk drivers often do not get hurt themselves in crashes they may cause?

Rinehart: There’s some truth to it and some half-truths to it. Quite often it seems like the drunk drivers are not the ones that get killed or injured, or as seriously, and I’ve seen some crashes that they definitely should have been, but they weren’t. One of the things that they attribute that to is just the fact that quite often they’re relaxed, they don’t realize what’s going on, they don’t have time to tense up. With some of the folks that have so much alcohol in their systems they don’t realize that so they stay loose and when they stay loose they tend to bounce around and not get hurt as much. BUT, there are a lot of drunk drivers that do actually get killed in the crashes or seriously injured in the crashes also. So, it’s not really a fact that they get away with it…quite often they don’t.

8-18 Media: Do you know if the number of drunk driving crashes is going up or down?

Rinehart: Right now, they have been on a downward trend. The last statistics that I looked at, there’s about 10,000 people a year across the United States that are killed in drunk driving crashes, which is down from about 20 years ago when there were about 20,000 people a year killed. What seems to be increasing is drugged driving. Part of that may be the new medical marijuana law and part of that is just an increase in the prescription drug abuse. That has definitely been an increase lately…drugged driving, not the drunk driving so much.

8-18 Media: What factor do you think alcoholism plays in these crashes and tragedies?

Rinehart: The fact is that these people drink a lot, they continue to drink they don’t understand what all is going on as a result. Sometimes when they do get arrested then they have to go through substance abuse treatment. Sometimes they then realize that they are having problems with alcohol, or are alcoholics, and then they can take steps to correct that problem and stop drinking. Unfortunately, sometimes they get in crashes and people have to get hurt or die before that can happen.

8-18 Media: What is the worse thing is for you, personally, about having to clean up the mess after drunk driving crashes?

Rinehart: I know some of you have experienced first hand a loss lately and that’s very hard to deal with. One of the hardest parts of our jobs sometimes is having to tell a parent that their child or young adult has been killed in a crash, or seriously injured in a crash, and they have to go to the hospital. For me personally, that’s one of my hardest things to have to do in this job and I wish there was just more that we could do to get people to stop.

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