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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ohio's Drunkest Drivers: NEO Region Leads The Pack

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Nearly a third of drunk drivers sentenced to the state prison system -- not county jails but penitentiaries -- for repeat or serious boozing offenses come from Northeast Ohio, the January DUI monitoring report shows. The felony report is compiled monthly by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, which has about 48,000 convicts under its control.

Six counties near Lake Erie account for 651 of 2,180 Ohio offenders with felonies for what the agency calls "Pure DUIs," meaning drunken driving was the sole crime that landed a prisoner in state custody. Cuyahoga County, the state's most populous, had the most, 200. But Summit County, with 159, was second, and Stark, with 153, was a close third. Together, Stark and Summit don't have as many people as Cuyahoga County.

No explanation is offered for the large numbers. Is it aggressive police work? Tougher judges? Or just a lot more drunks on the road? Another possibility: During the long winters near Lake Erie people turn to booze and find themselves in trouble. However, Lucas County (Toledo) isn't on the prison system's list of leading felony-DUI counties, so a "long winter" theory probably is nonsense.

Franklin County -- the state's second most populous -- has Ohio State University, where student drinking is often an issue of much public concern. But it only has 102 felony drunks, which ranked it behind Hamilton (130) and Butler (107) in SW Ohio. The median age of a felony drunk in Ohio is 39, and the median sentence is 2 years.

The report shows that the number of people with felonies has been rising -- from 38 in 1991; 219 in 2000; 406 in 2005, and 465 last year. Almost all the felony drunks are white and male.

All the state data paints a picture showing that public and legislative attitudes against drunken driving have hardened. The death and destruction are not tolerated.

Still, MADD hopes to wipe it out completely. But as long as there are fools who think they can get behind the wheel with a snootful, that day will never come. When they turn the key, they might be opening the lock to a cell door.

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