Under the Influence: How a DUI Cost Me More Than Just a Night in Jail

Updated on August 17, 2017
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Luke Schulte is a featured contributor to local San Antonio print and television media. He is an actor, activist, and equality advocate.

A Little Background

In 2004, I was teaching medical assisting during the day and working some nights as a bartender. (Teachers often don't make very much, so part-time side jobs aren't at all uncommon.) I went out after work one night and had way too much to drink. I don't remember much, but I do remember sleeping in my truck in the parking lot of the bar I'd gone to, and waking up a few hours later feeling like I was finally able to drive home.

Less than a mile from my house, in the rain, on a notorious strip of road that curved quickly from one direction to the other at least three or four times, I fell asleep. Seconds later, I woke up and realized that I had drifted off of the road completely. I slammed on the breaks and over-corrected the wheel, turning away from the wooden privacy fence and backyard I had been headed toward, and was stopped suddenly by a large, wooden utility pole. If I hadn't woken up exactly when I did, I would have taken out that fence and crashed through the back of a two-story house, possibly killing the residents within.

I'd never been in an accident before where I was the driver. The seat belts locked. The airbags deployed. I had a few scrapes and burns from the impact, but I was fortunate enough to escape any severe injury considering the damage to my truck. (It was totaled.) I jumped out of the cab when I thought I saw smoke. I know now that it was just powder from the airbags. I couldn't believe what had happened. I was in shock. It was still raining as I stood outside and stared at the mangled mass of metal. For a brief moment, I considered running away from the scene of the accident. My house was just a couple of blocks away, and the car wasn't registered in my name yet. Maybe they'd never know it was me. I'd like to think that was mostly just a fear response from the trauma of the accident, but it was cowardice. I knew I had made a huge mistake and that I was most likely on my way to jail.

The police came. When they questioned me, I didn't mention I'd been drinking and the officer never asked. I can't remember exactly what I said, but I blamed a long day at work, the dangerous curve of the road and the rain. I was so shaken that I couldn't remember my address or the phone number of the friend I had moved in with just weeks before. The move had been so recent that I hadn't even changed my license yet. He sat me in the back of his patrol car and I waited. I called my brother and my sister in case I was arrested. I didn't know what to do. Then, I remembered. I had a bottle of booze in the car. It was still half full from earlier in the evening. The impact of the crash must have sent it under the passenger's seat, because the officer never mentioned it. He drove me home while I gave him turn-by-turn directions, and he left me in the car while he verified with my roommate that I did, in fact, live there.

Besides the cost of towing my truck away and the cost of repairs to the fence and utility pole, there were no legal consequences to my accident. I should have learned a valuable lesson about drinking and driving, but I didn't. In fact, I taught myself the exact opposite. I convinced myself that I was a completely capable driver, even under the influence, that I was just tired that day...and it had been raining, which made the road slick...and the curves of the road which routinely caused accidents at that exact spot were a known hazard. I convinced myself that I was blameless. I never thought to ask myself why I had started drinking so much in the first place.

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DUI Number One

Five years ago, in November 2011, I was finally arrested for drunk driving. Since the accident in 2004, I would estimate that I had driven while intoxicated several times a month and had never been stopped for so much as a speeding ticket. I remember thinking earlier this particular night, though, that going out was a bad idea, but I went anyway. I should have realized that the universe was trying to send me a sign when at first I couldn't find my wallet, and then I couldn't find my keys. In any event, I eventually made my way to the bar, drank way too much and drove myself home even after my friends tried to convince me that I shouldn't.

I was pulled over for swerving about two blocks from my apartment. I refused to take a breathalyzer test, because I had been told that taking one was a bad idea. Texas is a "no refusal" state, which meant that once I was arrested and processed, a judge signed a warrant for a mandatory blood draw. I was twice the legal limit: 0.16 (though I wouldn't find that out until my court date months later). I spent the night in jail, missing an entire shift at work the next day. My parents posted bail for me. I think it was $200. (10% of the $2000 fine.) I promised to pay them back, and I did.

I appeared for court as scheduled a couple of months later, only to have my hearing reset for the following month. This happened at least four times. Eventually, I was sentenced to 18 months of probation, fined and required to attend several classes and have a breathalyzer installed in my vehicle. I had to meet with my probation officer at least once a month—a fifteen minute appointment which inevitably turned into a three to four hour ordeal each time—and agree to random, observed drug and alcohol tests, all of which were done at my expense. I had to make an appointment for the installation of the breathalyzer, which could naturally only be done during business hours, which meant more missed work; and the unit had to be inspected and downloaded once a month, also during business hours. Eventually, my boss tired of the amount of work I was missing and terminated me.

If I add all the direct expenses I had to pay (tow fees, lawyer, restitution to include the cost of the blood draw, fines, classes, breathalyzer installation, maintenance and removal, drug and alcohol tests, etc.) and account for the lost wages, my first DWI cost me somewhere between $12,000 and $15,000. Again, I should have learned my lesson, but I refused. The problem still wasn't me. It still wasn't my drinking. The problem was the world. No one loved me. No one understood me. No one appreciated me. Drinking was the only thinking keeping me from going insane.

My DUI Expenses

Description
Cost
Notes
Bond
$200.00
10% of bail set by magistrate
Lawyer
$5,000.00
Average price of basic respresetation (guilty plea)
Fine
$2,000.00
Criminal charges after conviction, plus court costs
DPS Surcharge
$3,300.00
Fines issued by DPS to reinstate driver's license
Breathalyzer
$850.00
Includes installation fee, monthly leasing fee and removal
DWI Classes
$150.00
Court ordered DWI Education course and Victim Impact Panel
Towing Fee
$150.00
Night of arrest
Towing Storage
$150.00
Subsequent days vehicle in impound until it could be retrieved
Restitution
$150.00
Cost of "reimbursing" PD to draw blood for BAC
Testing Fees
$200.00
Random alcohol and drug testing during pre-trial and probation
TOTAL
$12,150.00
(Not including missed work)

DUI Number Two

Three months after getting off probation for my first DUI, I was pulled over and arrested again. My blood alcohol level (BAC) was nearly three times the legal limit: 0.22. This time, I was placed under house arrest for a month, sentenced to two years of probation, ordered to attend even more classes and counseling, had a breathalyzer re-installed in the car, fined and later ordered to take Antabuse three times a week.

Antabuse is a medication that causes you to feel ill if you consume alcohol. Reactions can be as mild as hives or stomach upset, or as severe as chest pain and shortness of breath. Antabuse has to be taken in view of a nurse, and there is only one Antabuse clinic in San Antonio. There is a fee to start treatment and a fee per pill (three times a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday). I was sentenced to six months of Antabuse treatment, but ended up being on the medication for over a year. (You have to receive permission from the court to stop, and my probation officer was convinced that I hadn't yet learned my lesson after six months, which I hand't.) My second DUI, all things considered—fines, fees, another lost job—cost me somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000.

What could it cost you?

Estimated DUI Charges
Estimated DUI Charges

The Aftermath

Despite all the time and money I lost on probation, despite the constant warnings by my probation officers to straighten up when I refused to stop drinking even though I had a breathalyzer, despite the time I spent in jail and all the motions to revoke my probation which nearly sent me back, I still wasn't ready to admit that I had a problem until I finally lost it all.

For the four years I was on probation, people were convinced that I had a drinking problem. They tried to convince me that I had a drinking problem. I refused to listen because I knew I wasn't an alcoholic. The problem was that I was depressed and didn't think life was worth living anymore, but I wasn't capable of dealing with my depression or of admitting that I had begun abusing alcohol in order to keep myself from feeling depressed. In my obstinance, I had rationalized a behavior that others viewed as alcoholism and dangerous, and justified drinking the way I had been because I knew I could stop at any time. I had allowed my life to spiral out of control because I couldn't admit that I was a broken, incomplete person who was hurting.

After a few months of being on probation this second time, my father kicked me out of the house. That's a story for another time. He asked for the car he'd given me for my birthday back. I lost my job...again. I lost friends. I lost hope. Not knowing where I was going to sleep, how I was going to afford to eat, when or if I'd find another job soon enough to keep from being homeless, I was forced to finally confront everything about myself I had been too scared to admit for the passed 30 years.

I bounced around from couch to couch, spare room to spare room for a few months. I found a job as a bartender, which not have been the healthiest choice, but it paid the bills. And I began seeing a therapist. The therapist was actually part of the conditions of my probation, but when he, too, said I was an alcoholic, I resolved to prove everyone wrong and get my life back on track.

My DWIs cost me $30,000 and over four years of my life. I'm grateful every day that my stupidity didn't ruin or end the lives of anyone else. Ordinarily, I would never had made the kinds of choices that led to my arrests, but when you don't have the tools to recognize depression, you don't realize how much it's affecting you and robbing you of who you really are.

I was homeless, penniless, jobless and alone. I had lost all hope that life would work out. I felt like life was completely unfair, like the system was rigged against me, like everyone I had ever loved had let me down. I had to lose absolutely everything, including my pride which is probably why it took so long to learn this particular lesson, but I had to lose everything to realize that the only way out was to stop looking at other people and what they had done to me, and start looking at myself and wondering what I was going to do about it.

If you or someone you know may have a problem with alcohol, visit www.aa.org for more information about recovery.

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