By Taylor Metcalf
Drunk driving is a constant problem across the United States, and it is no different in Bowling Green.
Like any other city, Bowling Green had seen its fair share of impaired driving. Warren County Sheriff Brett Hightower had seen several drunk driving instances in his time as an officer and since his election as sheriff in 2018.
“Drunk driving is an issue that has plagued a lot of communities,” Hightower said. “When you don’t put a plan in place [for getting home] early on, you make poor choices.”
However, in the past near decade, record rates of driving under the influence in Bowling Green have decreased nearly half. In 2009, records showed that 799 instances of drunk driving were recorded, while 2018 had only 464.
While many people may wonder why the rates dropped so drastically over a 9-year period, the Bowling Green Police Department’s public information officer, Ronnie Ward, said it’s not because of a lack of drunk drivers.
“I think what drives our rates is our ability to find impaired drivers,” Ward said. “And that is dictated by our call volume. We don’t have a dedicated team to go out and find impaired drivers.”
From January 1, 2019 to April 2 the same year, 111 drunk driving citations were filed. Of these 111 drunk driving instances, one involved underage drinking and 27 of them involved collisions—including both single-car and two-car collisions.
All 111 citations were obtained from the Bowling Green Police Department. These reports not only included collisions but also incidents where drivers fled from police or lost consciousness behind the wheel.
One citation from January 16, 2019 stated that Tonya Thompson of Smyrna, Tennessee attempted to flee from the Bowling Green officer but stopped when ordered to. She stated that she had had two drinks at Ichiban before “smoking a blunt” of marijuana in her vehicle. Thompson had a small child in the vehicle with her who cried out, “Please don’t kill her” before she was taken into custody.
Earlier in the same month on January 6, a Bowling Green police officer responded to a call about a suspected drunken driver at Hardee’s on Russellville Road. The driver had fallen unconscious while in the drive-thru , and was shaken awake by an employee. The driver, Jerry Gibson, had been driving impaired and had fallen asleep at the wheel.
Before citizens even have the chance to drive impaired, Ward said authorities remind people of the consequences.
“We really do just go out and remind people, ‘Hey, we’ll put you in jail if we at all possibly can—if we can catch you,” Ward said.
According to the Warren County Attorney’s official website, a person is deemed “too impaired to operate a motor vehicle with a blood or breath alcohol level of .08 or higher.” The punishments for driving under the influence of alcohol became harsher if a person was convicted several times within a five-year period.
For the first DUI offense, there is a $200 to $500 fine, and the possibility of 30 days of jail time, as well as license suspension from anywhere to 30 to 120 days. The penalties increase until the fourth offense, where it becomes a class D felony, the least serious class of felonies. This felony would be tried by the Warren County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.
Many DUI offenders in Warren County would be required to attend a Mothers Against Drunk Driving Impact Panel. The panel has presenters that “explain the devasting effects that DUI-related accidents can have on a friend or loved-one’s life,” according to the county attorney’s website. Police officers would also attend to tell stories they’ve collected on drunk driving encounters.
The 111 citations did not have a trend when it came to age. The ages of those charged ranged from under-age to those past 40. Mark Smith, an attorney at the local law firm Smith & Wilcutt, believed the idea that drunken driving is dependent on age – and was a particular problem among college students — was a misconception among the public.
“It’s across all generations,” Smith said. “I come into contact with people that have been charged with DUI from all age ranges—anywhere from being under-aged to 70s, 80s.”
Ward believed that age was not to blame for drunk driving rates, but rather the instinctive desire to drive impaired.
“There are just some people who are inherently going to drive intoxicated,” Ward said.
While driving impaired by alcohol is a problem across the nation, Kentucky specifically has created laws to curb the number of drunk drivers. In 2015, Kentucky passed Senate Bill 133. The bill introduced the use of ignition interlock system—breathalyzers would be used on first-time offenders with a blood alcohol content of .15 or greater and repeat DUI offenders.
In March 2019, the Kentucky Senate and House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 85, a proposed amendment to the 2015 Senate Bill 133. The amendment states that the ignition interlock system would be applied to all impaired drivers rather than to just the previously stated.
After being detained, impaired Bowling Green drivers attend court to have their case heard before a judge. On April 26alone, there were four DUI hearings. Van Allen Washer, Tyrek Williams, Claude Cavin Sr. and Timothy Fuzzell were all charged with operating a moving vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Fuzzell and Cavin had added charges including having an open alcohol container in the vehicle or driving on a DUI suspended license.
Many wonder why citizens of Bowling Green, or anywhere else, choose to drive under the influence. Hightower believed it was lack of preparation that led the impaired to get behind the wheel.
“A lot of times, people just fail to prepare,” Hightower said. “They go out to an establishment and expect to drink a few drinks and they end up having several more than they intended. Then they think, ‘I don’t want to leave my car here, I’ll drive the short distance home.”
According to Hightower and Ward, there are several ways to avoid driving impaired. With car services like Uber and Lyft, and cab services, staying safe on the road is more obtainable than in the past. Ward mentioned cab services and simply calling a friend or walking if it is safe.
“I think that people need to tell their friends ‘If you need a ride, call me,’ and mean it,” Ward said.
Many local bars also have policies in place to get people back to their homes, whether it is calling a cab or requesting that family members come to collect the intoxicated.
But drunk driving does not just affect one person. Mayleigh Kimble, a WKU student, understands the dangers of driving impaired.
“A very good friend of mine had her life destroyed by someone who was driving while impaired,” Kimble said. “I watch her make her way through life with constant pain and difficulties.”
The local authorities are active in educating the public, especially college and high school students, on the dangers of drunk driving. Ward mentioned use of social media and mainstream media, like newspapers and television, to advise against driving under the influence.
According to Hightower, the deputies at the Warren County Sheriff’s Department will be participating in a class on traffic enforcement locations in mid-June. The class will cover checking for seatbelts, speed, identification and insurance. Hightower said the “legality had changed” and deputies needed to become more familiar with the changes in the laws. After the class, the department plans to set up checkpoints around Warren County to enforce traffic laws.
“If you get arrested for shoplifting, that’s on you,” Ward said. “But driving under the influence doesn’t just affect you.”