Officials and offenders agree that court program could help repeat drunken-drivers
JANESVILLE Vern Long knows first hand that alcoholics must deal with their addictions before they'll stop drinking and driving.
Long quickly went from a Craig High School assistant football coach to a felony drunken-driving offender before he finally received treatment.
He needed a three-year prison sentence to recover.
"For the first time, I felt the pain and anguish I put everybody through for the last 35 years," Long said. "It was hard."
Rock County might start a new treatment court to help drunken drivers such as Long avoid jail or prison time. The court would provide offenders with treatment to rehabilitate them and keep them from committing new offenses.
The program would be based on the model of other Rock County alternative programs such as drug court.
Offenders in the court program would appear weekly in front of a judge, meet with counselors and undergo regular sobriety checks, officials said. Offenders would face consequences if they violated the court's rules.
"Just merely locking them up doesn't make an alcoholic not drink," Rock County District Attorney David O'Leary said. "If a person is an alcoholic, you need to solve the problem of alcoholism to solve the problem of repeat drunk drivers."
'Drinking since high school'
Long, 54, grew up in Janesville. He later helped coach football at Craig. He also held factory jobs.
Alcohol was always part of his life.
"I've been drinking since high school for 35 years. It was one of those cultural things. I was a jock, and that was just what you did," Long said. "I didn't know I was going to turn out that way. I didn't sign up to be an alcoholic."
Long got married and had a son. He later got divorced because of his drinking. He sometimes would drink alone.
He said he was arrested for drunken driving in the late 1990s, causing him to lose his coaching career. Everything spiraled out of control from there.
He was arrested for drunken driving in 2001, 2003 and 2005. He was then arrested for drunken driving twice in 2009, landing him in prison.
"The first thing I thought of was, 'This is reality, now,'" Long said. "It was no more paying fines and doing some classes and then you're back out."
'I'm an alcoholic'
Long was sent to Drug Abuse Correctional Center near Oshkosh, where he had to undergo intense substance-abuse treatment for a year.
"It's a good feeling because you're really starting to take a deep look at yourself, and you see your faults that you never wanted to admit to before," he said.
He had to attend group and personal therapy sessions. He had to read books and write papers. He had to write letters to loved ones impacted by his alcoholism.
"I never thought anything like that would ever happen. I look back, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me," Long said. "It taught me life. It taught me reality, and it taught me that I have a disease called alcoholism and that I'm an alcoholic."
After a year in the program, Long was released from prison in February. He moved back to his home in Janesville.
'Breaking that cycle'
Drunken drivers would have to be in OWI court for about a year if the program receives county funding.
Offenders probably would enter the program after their third offenses, O'Leary said.
The court would focus on accountability and rehabilitation.
"If you can eliminate their addictions, you're going to prevent a lot of future crime by breaking that cycle," O'Leary said.
The hope would be to prevent offenders from committing their fourth offenses, which would be felonies, he said.
County officials are studying other drunken-driving courts and plan to recommend how it could work here, O'Leary said.
Prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and treatment providers are working together to make the court possible, he said. No date has been set to start the program.
"I've seen the success of drug court, and I'm praying that we can have that same success in minimizing repeat drunk drivers," O'Leary said. "If we can prevent even one individual from drinking and driving in the future, that is one less risk on the road that every family has to take on."
'You can change'
Long remains under the supervision of the state Department of Corrections and has to submit to regular home breath tests.
He is on electronic monitoring and wears a bracelet around his ankle.
"It's just a part of life. It is what it is. I paid the price, so I've got to do it," Long said.
He doesn't have a driver's license or a car. He often rides the bus.
He is trying to find a job to avoid losing his house.
"I'm trying to do what's best for me. I've seen the worst of what I can do. Now it's time to see the best of what I can do," Long said.
He has been sober since November 2009.
"I was able to get a second chance at life, and I am going to try and make the most out of it," Long said.
"You can change. It's a mindset. You just need to be willing."
FREED TO OFFEND AGAIN
Dominick A. Johnson, 25, Beloit
Johnson was released on a signature bond in July 2010 for his third drunken-driving charge. He was arrested about a month later for his fourth offense. The prior case was still pending.
Robert M. Langklotz, 46, Milton
Langklotz was released on a signature bond in September 2009 for his fifth OWI charge. Less than five months later, he was arrested for his sixth drunken-driving charge. The prior case still was pending.
Vern A. Long, 54, Janesville
Long was arrested for a fifth OWI offense in March 2009 and released on a signature bond. He was arrested for his sixth drunken-driving offense seven months later. The previous case still was pending in court.
Jacob L. Martin, 29, Janesville
Martin was charged with his fifth drunken-driving offense in February 2010 and released on bond. About a month later, Martin was charged with his sixth offense while the previous case was pending.
Daniel R. Myher, 45, Osseo
Myher was charged with his fourth OWI offense and released on a signature bond in January 2010. He was arrested for his fifth offense in Rock County in October 2010 while the previous case was pending in court.
Roberta L. Portlock, 50, Janesville
Portlock was charged with her sixth OWI offense in March 2010 and released on a signature bond. She was arrested for drunken driving again about four months later while the other case was pending in court.
Daniel Curtis Tuescher, 41, Janesville
Tuescher was charged with his fifth drunken-driving offense in June 2010 and released on a signature bond. He was charged with another OWI offense about two months later. Both cases are pending in court.