The keynote speaker Thursday for the 10th anniversary of the Troup County DUI/Drug Court said if he had access to a program like it in 2000, it might have prevented him deciding to drive while drunk, leading to an accident that killed two people and changed his life forever.
Speaker Chris Sandy said since the incident in 2000, he has shared his story as a cautionary tale about the consequences of drunken driving.
“I was 22 when I made the worst decision of my life,” he told the crowd of DUI/Drug Court graduates and officials.
Sandy was at a party where he “slammed” four large alcoholic beverages. After receiving a call about another party, he and a friend jumped into his car and sped down a rural road at 77 mph.
As Sandy was attempting to pass a minivan, he slammed into an elderly couple as they were turning their Ford LTD into a driveway. The impact tore the Ford in half. Sandy, who wasn’t wearing a seat belt, was thrown and suffered a dislocated hip and torn knee. He had a blood-alcohol level of .14.
“While I was lying on the side of the road, worrying about going to jail or worrying about what happened to my car, I hear someone in the background yell ‘there is a fatality on the scene,’” Sandy said. “… As soon as I hear those words, I realize right then and there that I killed somebody.”
The passenger had been killed on impact and her husband, the driver, was flown to Atlanta Medical Center, but died later. Sandy was convicted of vehicular homicide by DUI and sentenced to 13 years in prison and 17 years’ probation. However, he said the guilt of knowing he took away someone’s parents and grandparents will stay with him forever.
“For the rest of my life, when I wake I up, I know that I am responsible for causing this crash, all because I wanted to go to this party and I wasn’t responsible enough to call someone, and I wasn’t responsible enough to ask for a ride – because I made the choice to drive,” he said.
The incident affected not only Sandy, but his family and friends. His friend who was in the car survived, but was changed by the experience. Sandy’s parents divorced and his sister, whom he said used to idolize him, “doesn’t look at me the same way any more.” His father died while Sandy was incarcerated, suffering a fatal heart attack on prison grounds after a visit.
While serving time, Sandy began to enroll in programs and change his life. Paroled in 2009, Sandy began speaking around the state about his experience. He now has two children, whom Sandy worries about telling about his past.
“I’m worried my kids will look at me different,” he said. “I hope they don’t … but it’s a fact.”
Sandy said the DUI program offered in Troup County is a positive one that can help deter the kind of incident that he caused. He wished he had the opportunity to take part in one before his incident.
“I’ve just seen so much happening (in DUI courts), I think it’s something very important and it definitely needs to be in every single city in the U.S.,” Sandy said. “I wish I had gone through it when I made some mistakes in my life.”
Kelly Veal, treatment provider for the Troup County DUI/Drug Court, said she has seen the impact the DUI/Drug Court and other accountability courts have had in the community. She said the participants are allowed the chance to get their lives back on track from drug or alcohol abuse.
She thanked the DUI/Drug Court team and supporters for the work they have done. She said that the accountability courts, which defer offenders to recovery programs in lieu of jail time, are the most successful form of criminal justice.
Scott Smith, DUI/Drug Court coordinator, said the accountability courts are on the cutting edge of the court system. He said the recidivism rate, amount of people who re-offend after taking the program, is only 8.9 percent, compared to about 35 percent in those who don’t take the program.
Harris Blackwood of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said Troup County, which was one of the first counties to implement a program like the DUI/Drug Court, is a success and example for the state. He said there are too many prisoners in the state for non-violent offenses who could be treated rather than locked up.
He thanked State Court Judge Jeanette Little for embracing and promoting the program.
“I appreciate Judge Little … she is no-nonsense … but she’s got a compassionate heart, and that’s a good thing,” he said before presenting Little with an award for 10 years of service. “Thank you for all your hard work.”