OVI Court Provides Pathway To Sobriety For Offenders

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It's a familiar tale where one drink leads to another and possibly is followed by more. The result often ends up with a drunken driver behind the wheel of a car.

Rachel Stump was hit by a drunken driver last August. But she's a survivor, who is back for the second time as a freshman at the Ohio State University.

“I just like to wake up every day and go to my classes,” said Stump.

Rachel was struck at North High Street and Chittenden Avenue. The crash put her in a coma with a cracked skull and eye socket, as well as bleeding in the brain.

"I'll remember certain small instances, but for the most part, I really don't remember anything,” added Stump.

After waking from the coma, she spent almost a year in therapy, learning how to use her body again.

"My mind knew how to jump. I'd try to jump, but I just didn't have the muscle memory or muscle mass to do so,” she said.

She hopes for a better way to stop drinkers from driving.

Forty miles away, Tiffany Knight drives a mower for one of her jobs as a gardener.

Last year, Knight was driving a car along 11th Street in Newark when she was stopped by police for speeding and charged with driving while intoxicated.  

More than 24,000 times last year in Ohio, law enforcement officers made similar stops.

Most of the time, drunken drivers wind up in jail. This was Tiffany's second offense.

"Once you get away with it once, it makes it easier to get away - you think you can get away with it every time,” added McKnight.

She did not get away this time, but she was given a choice.

"Either I could go spend the maximum sentence of 163 days in jail, or I could join the OVI program,” said Knight, an OVI Court Graduate.

In Newark, there is an OVI specialized docket court, created by Municipal Judge Michael Higgins.

Higgins was tired of seeing the same people arrested for drunken driving.

"We see too many of them coming back into the system even though we give them lengthy jail sentences and suspend their licenses for lengthy periods of time,” said Higgins.

Higgins understands how dangerous drunken drivers can be.

"I can't imagine losing a child or a friend due to the actions of a drunk driver,” added Higgins.

Higgins wanted to break the cycle, so he started a special court in Licking County, based on one in Clermont County.  

People like Tiffany with two or more OVI offenses now come to court regularly for a voluntary three-phase program.

It can last up to a year. If offenders complete it, they get their sentence and fine reduced.
As part of the court, they must join an alcohol prevention program, meet weekly with the probation department, find work and create healthy hobbies.

They must also wear a computerized ankle monitor, at least for a while. The monitor takes blood alcohol readings twice an hour, every hour of the day.  Probation staff downloads the information.

It's a way for the court to know who is sober and who is not.

The program also requires that participants come in weekly for drug tests. If they skip their obligations, they face consequences.

Tiffany completed the program in eight months.

“It was actually life-changing for me, because it showed me how I can live without alcohol and without the use of drugs,” said Knight.

She has returned to pursuing her dream, one that involves using her college degree.

"I still got a couple months to get my license back, and then after that, hopefully I'll be able to do something with my criminal justice degree and eventually move out of state. And start over,” said Knight.

Rachel Stump is starting over as well, and she has a message for those who drink and drive.

"The consequences definitely aren't worth it,” she said.

The OVI court is one of just five like it in Ohio.

The Licking County probation department said 18 people have completed the OVI program, and they have had no further drunken driving arrests.

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