SPECIAL REPORT: The High Cost of DWI - KWES NewsWest 9 / Midland, Odessa, Big Spring, TX: newswest9.com |

SPECIAL REPORT: The High Cost of DWI

Nick Lawton
NewsWest 9

PERMIAN BASIN - Watch the clock. Every hour, across the U.S., two people are killed in a drunk driving crash. That's one every half hour.

We've all seen the ads and public service announcements about what could happen while drinking and driving. But what about if that doesn't happen and all you get is a DWI?

No one got hurt, so, no big deal, right?

A room full of people at Stop DWI's Victim Impact Panel would tell you how wrong you are.

"Try to reach them and say 'I want you to be that one. I want to change your attitude so I'm going to show you what happens when you make a bad choice,'" DPS Trooper, John Barton, said.

The Victim Impact Panel is a program combining the efforts of Midland anti-drinking and driving nonprofit, Stop DWI and DPS.

DWI offenders are required to attend.

In the presentation, videos are shown and stories are told, stories of real people whose lives were cut tragically short.

"We show them video from our in-car cameras, some of the things that we've seen on the side of the road," Barton said. "These were actual people and then we show them that actual pictures that the families would give to us to say 'These faces, this body that you're seeing has a face.'"

"Challenge the individual to make a better choice next time it comes to a confrontation with alcohol," Stop DWI CEO, Charles Hodges, said.

Before the panel even begins, offenders fill out anonymous surveys and what NewsWest 9 found when we investigated them was disturbing.

18 and 19-year-olds were getting their drinks from clubs. Either they weren't carded or their fake ID's fooled the bars.

We discovered offenders were paying more than $2,000 for their DWI's, sometimes more than $7,000 and even as high as $8,000.

If that's not enough to show the cost of DWI's, the personal stories of the offenders say even more.

All offenders have been kept anonymous to protect their identities.

"You just think you're going out to have a good time and then that was just something little but it could have been a lot worse," one offender said.

For some offenders, the cost became clear during the nights they spent in jail.

"Well, it was my first time ever being in jail. I spent two days in there and it was horrible," another offender said. "I just felt like a criminal and I don't like that feeling. While I was in there, I really did think about how much worse it could have been because I could have either killed my friend or could have hurt myself. I could have hurt somebody else."

For others, the idea of them dying or taking the life of another woke them up too.

Those presiding over the panel hope that idea keeps them from going to court for a repeat offense.

"I tell the classes 'You don't want to see me in court,'" Hodges said. "All a jury or judge needs to hear from me is that this is what we present at the Victim Impact Panel and this is what we challenge people to do and obviously they didn't pay attention."

"Some people have managed to go their whole life and never had any type of program that's in your face: 'This is the consequences. This is reality,'" Barton said.

These offenders won't be the last in the Basin.

NewsWest 9 uncovered some surveys that showed no apology, saying they got their alcohol for a party from an older person and the only thing they learned was to lock the doors next time.

But apologetic offenders were still found.

Officials said as long as just one person stops for good, then the panel is a success.

"We're always happy to see individuals and hear from them as to how it's helped them and I dare say we don't have many repeat offenders," Hodges said.

"I'm seeing those individuals, maybe one at a time but, again, I don't have to worry about those individuals anymore," Barton said.

Offenders bring a warning to the rest of the Basin: DWI's cost you your money, sometimes your freedom and sometimes can cost you or someone you love the ultimate price.

"Luckily, I did get caught instead of having to live the rest of my life with someone else's blood on my hands," an offender said. "I really wish I would have listened."

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