Alcohol addiction was deadly for 53-year-old Robert Lee Ellis, of Columbus, Ohio, but not in the way you might think.
On October 16th of this year, Ellis was driving around a curve just outside of Columbus when he struck a utility pole. His 51-year-old passenger was pronounced dead at the scene. The passenger was his wife, Dawn Ellis. Neither were wearing seatbelts at the time of the collision.
Ellis’s blood alcohol content at the time was 0.185 percent. What’s more, officers learned that this was not Ellis’s first DUI incident. In fact, it was his 13th, and his driving suspension from a prior DUI was still in effect at the time.
“While investigating this fatal traffic crash it was very clear to investigators that Mr. Ellis is one of the worst habitual repeat offenders of drunk driving we have seen,” the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “He has no regard for human life continuing to be an extreme danger to the motoring public due to his criminal behavior of operating vehicle while impaired. It is further evidence in this case in which he caused the death of his wife while having a blood alcohol of .185, which is more than double the legal limit.”
On Monday, Ellis was indicted by a grand jury for aggravated vehicular homicide as a first degree felony, aggravated vehicular homicide as a second degree felony, and two counts of operating a vehicle under the influence as a third degree felony.
“I’m so happy he’s behind bars so he cannot put anyone else’s family through what he’s put us through,” Dawn Ellis’s daughter, Bobbi Spencer told NBC Columbus affiliate WCMH. “But it’s still never gonna [sic] take the pain away that he’s caused all of us.”
There is no question that Ellis should not have been driving or that he caused the loss of a life for which he must now pay a price. But focusing anger on what Ellis did alone ignores another sad truth; Ellis suffered from alcoholism and the system failed him and his wife.
This issue, on a number of occasions, has been discussed by both myself and Lawrence Taylor, who said the following in a post from way back in 2013 that remains true now.
Albert Einstein once famously said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again…and expecting different results”.
The simple fact is that most DUI-caused deaths are caused by a relatively small group of “problem drinkers”. These individuals are typically characterized by recidivism (repeat offenses), unusually high blood-alcohol levels — and alcoholism. And alcoholics are simply not deterred by criminal sanctions, any more than drug addicts are. By now, most experts recognize that alcoholism is a disease, not a choice. And you don’t treat a disease with incarceration. If you throw an alcoholic in jail for six months, on the day he walks out he will likely go to the first bar he finds and resume drinking. What has been accomplished?
We recognize incapacity due to disease for such crimes as murder: the plea/verdict is “not guilty by reason of insanity”. The defendant is not simply set free, but is hospitalized for treatment of the disease. Why not treatment for drunk drivers who suffer from the disease of alcoholism?
Would you prefer to have a chronic drunk driver off the roads for a few months — or treated for his addiction?
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