by David Sisler

Two interesting articles dominated the front page of The Augusta Chronicle this weekend.

On Saturday, a full-color photograph above the fold was entitled, “Closing Times,” and led an article about “Drinking after hours.”

Sunday’s paper featured another full-color photograph of a cross painted on an Aiken, SC street, and headlined “Deadly Driving.”

Saturday first.

Richmond County Commissioners are reviewing a bill which would allow local bars to stay open later and to keep pouring drinks. Chip Melton, a local bar owner has suggested the 3 a.m. closing be pushed back to 4 a.m., because “the extra sales could raise more than $2 million from the excise tax collected.” Mr. Melton was not quoted concerning the extra profits his saloon would soak up from this new draft.

The Augusta-Richmond County government, you see, has a budget crisis, and City Administrator George Kolb toasts the idea. He supports a pilot program to see if the extra hour of boozing will generate more revenue or more expenses. Six months ought to be enough, he thinks.

Mr. Melton thinks the only ones who won’t swallow the plan are “the same ones who complain about property taxes.”

Imbiber George Bowers says when he wants to party later than 3 a.m., he just crosses the river to North Augusta, SC, where the bars are still open. Bowers did not indicate whether he calls a cab, uses a designated driver, or drives himself.

Which leads me to the Sunday paper.

If you do not live in the Central Savannah River Area you may need a quick geography lesson. From downtown Augusta, it is a five-minute drive across the river to North Augusta, SC, and Aiken, SC is perhaps another 20 minutes away.

So figure you are one half hour away the Surrey Tavern and Red Lion Pub, which Chip Melton co-owns, to where Sue Townsend works. Ms. Townsend is the Aiken County Coroner.

Greg Rickabuagh writes, “Sue Townsend stared at the man’s death certificate and finally jotted down ‘stupidity’ as a contributing factor to his death.”

The dead drunk dead drunk died after crashing his car on Interstate 20 in Aiken county. He was clocked at 143 mph just before he drove into eternity. He was one of 50 people who died on Aiken’s highways last year – 38 percent of them because of drinking and driving.

Every single injury and death caused by drunk driving is 100 percent preventable.

There are some things that could be done to keep drunk drivers out of their cars – if legislators had the courage to make it so.

If someone is convicted for driving under the influence of alcohol, revoke his license: six months for a first time offender, one year if it is a second offense, forever if it is the third offense. Too harsh you say? What if the life he is threatening, as his car careens out of control, is yours? Or the target is a member of your family? Still think it is too harsh? Sue Townsend was right – drunks driving are stupid. This kind of stupid should be punished.

So you suspend her license and she keeps driving. Well, when the judge suspends her license – and there should be no option, no mitigating circumstances, no judicial option – you do the crime, you do the time – take the license plate off of the car. That is for the first offense. If it is her second offense, impound her car. It’s not her car, you whine. If wine makes her a lethal weapon, the ninny whose car she is driving knows her history. Let him suffer. Better him and her than me and you.

If someone dies during an alcohol related wreck, and the drunk driver lives, he does jail time. Mandatory. No parole. No exceptions.

When whatever legislative body extends the length of time local bars may be open giving patrons more time to become inebriated, then whatever legislative body which is empowered to pass strict sentencing laws should see that the new penalties are ready by closing time.

So far, driving under the influence of alcohol has not been classified by snake oil psychiatry as compulsive, unavoidable behavior (even though the pessimist in me says, give ‘em time). Folks, this is voluntary behavior. If you drink and drive you are breaking the law. If you drink and drive and survive, the law should break you. You should not get the chance to use your car as a potentially lethal weapon aimed at the rest of us.


Copyright 2002 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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