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Our drinking problem



You may have heard that, last weekend, drunk driver Oscar Lopez Quiterio killed two people. Quiterio, who has been officially charged with driving while impaired, reckless driving and driving without a license, had two passengers: Otilio Chegues, 33, and Jorge Gonzalez, 28. According to a recent Charlotte Observer article, the trio was driving around 6:45 p.m. when their car veered off of Zion Church Road in Concord and struck two trees, splitting his 1997 Honda Sedan in half. The car was going 85 mph when Quiterio lost control, striking the first tree at 65 mph. The car then flipped over striking another tree.

Chegues and Gonzalez were pronounced dead at the scene and Quiterio was transported to the hospital without life-threatening injuries. Quiterio was the only one wearing a seat belt. Although it is tragic that Chegues and Gonzalez perished in the crash, luckily no one else was hurt outside of the vehicle.

I don't know about you, but I am really tired of reading about DUI and DWI arrests in Charlotte — not to mention those hurt or killed by drunk drivers. When I read about this latest incident, I reloaded the page thinking that perhaps I was stuck on a similar story that I had previously read. But that wasn't the case.

It seems like every time you pick up a paper or surf local news websites, you see a report of someone being injured, killed or arrested for a drunk-driving-related offense. Scroll through the photos of people arrested over the weekend, and you will find drunk-driving arrests in the mix. You may remember Maurice McDowell, 23, who was killed in July when a drunk driver ran into the back of his car while he was sitting at a stop light, pushing him through the intersection where he was hit and killed by another vehicle. What about the first weekend of August 2010? Charlotte-Mecklenburg police arrested 11 people for driving while impaired. One of those arrests was Kirstie Pienta, 19, who is accused of hitting three pedestrians.

If you think I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, Charlotte is third in the nation with drunk driving violations, just behind San Diego and San Jose, Calif. Who wants that distinction? It is not surprising when you spend time in Uptown and other parts of the city, watching people stumbling from one bar to the next. Many of them are not young people, but grown folks — some of whom look like they are parents and grandparents — leaving the bar and falling into their cars.

While I am not a doctor, there seems to be a culture of binge drinking in Charlotte, especially in age groups that should know better. If you've made it to 30, you probably know of someone who was hurt or killed by a drunk driver. There used to be certain times of the year when your antennae went up and you knew that it was not prudent to be on the roads — New Year's Eve, prom season, etc. Now, you just never know, especially here in Charlotte.

Perhaps, I am hypersensitive about drunk driving, having lost a set of grandparents to a drunk driver. A drunk driver kills someone every 45 minutes. Numbers don't lie, and the fact that Charlotte continues to be at the top of this list is disconcerting to say the least. Whatever the reason, something has to be done.

Can more local businesses make taxi vouchers available year-round for patrons who are sloppy drunk? Can there be more foot and bicycle patrols in Uptown and other high-risk areas? Can we have an awareness campaign, not only about drunk driving, but also treatment for alcoholism? I know, I know — where's the money going to come from? In the meantime, can we agree to think more and drink less? Designated drivers work wonders — and if you don't have one, don't drink or just limit yourself to one drink. If you can't do that, then Houston, you've got an alcohol problem, so stay home.

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