Drunken driving crashes spike in Dane County; at least 11 killed in first half of 2022

This article originally appeared on Madison.com and can be found here.
Chris Hubbuch | Wisconsin State Journal

Drunken driving crashes — including at least 11 fatalities — rose sharply during the first half of 2022, according to a new report.

There were 80 automobile crashes between January and June involving alcohol, 41% more than the five-year average, according to the Dane County Traffic Safety Commission, a coalition of public and private organizations working to improve traffic safety.

While the commission is continuing to analyze the data, co-chair Cheryl Wittke said the rise in drunken driving correlates with an increase in drinking since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

“There’s just been an overall spike in alcohol use,” Wittke said.

Of 16 fatal crashes this year, 11 involved drivers whose blood alcohol levels exceeded the legal limit of 0.08%, in some cases by up to three times. Wittke said the actual number of alcohol-related fatalities is likely higher because of the time it takes to get lab results on blood drawn after a crash.

Wittke, who also serves as executive director of Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County, said the commission is working on prevention strategies to be rolled out this fall. “We believe it’s preventable,” she said.

The Dane County Sheriff’s Office and 13 police departments have grant funding from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Safety to cover overtime for high-visibility traffic enforcement efforts aimed at curbing dangerous driving.

But Wittke said law enforcement alone can’t solve the problem. Across all age groups, Wisconsin has the highest rate of excessive drinking in the nation, said Maureen Busalacchi, director of the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project, which provides training and technical assistance to help communities address excessive drinking. And while the definition of binge drinking is generally four to five drinks in a two-hour period, Busalacchi said data show Wisconsinites are typically having nine drinks in a setting.

“We live in a state where heavy drinking has become normalized,” said Brian Dunleavy, whose 20-year-old son, Conor, was killed in 2012 when the car he was riding in was struck by an intoxicated driver going 100 mph on his way from one bar to another.

Lawren Prisk, 52, served seven years in prison for the crash. “I grew up in a household where my parents were big entertainers,” Dunleavy said. “We watched adults, you know, drinking a lot. They were all professional people. We thought that was OK.”

The Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project has developed strategies to reduce binge drinking by identifying bars that routinely over-serve customers, as well as community festivals that overemphasize drinking. “There needs to be community support and buy-in,” Busalacchi said. “Our civic organizations can play an important role in terms of the standards they set.”

Dunleavy, a retired Madison school teacher who now lives in Milwaukee, said with the availability of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft there’s no excuse for drinking and driving.

“I’m not asking people not to drink,” he said. “You need to have that game plan in place before you set out on the night. Your executive functioning definitely goes south after a few beers.”

Dane County Sees 41% Increase in Car Crashes Related to Alcohol Use

This article originally appeared in the Capital Times and can be found here.
By Allison Garfield

Dane County has seen a 41% increase in the number of car crashes related to alcohol use in 2022 compared to the previous five years, a new Traffic Safety Commission analysis found.

In total, 80 crashes from January to June involved alcohol use, compared to the previous five-year average of 57, including crashes resulting in injury or death.

While there have been 16 fatal crashes in the county this year, of those, 11 involved alcohol use.

Cheryl Wittke is a co-chair on the commission and executive director of Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County, a local nonprofit coalition of over 350 organizations working to increase traffic safety. She said the county’s trend is “disturbing” and “devastating.”

“We continue to see excessive use of alcohol as a factor in most crashes, and it doesn’t have to happen. We really can’t lose sight of the impact that the crashes have, especially on the victims and the families,” Wittke said.

Most of the Dane County fatal crashes occurred outside Madison in Fitchburg, the village of Blue Mounds, and towns of Oregon, Vienna, Dunkirk, Rutland, Dunn and Albion.

While the Traffic Safety Commission is working to determine the cause of the spike, Wittke speculated it has to do with increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic.

Alcohol is ingrained in Wisconsin’s culture; the state has the highest rate of excessive alcohol consumption in the nation, according to data from the United Health Foundation.

That also means challenges from excessive drinking appear particularly acute, as well. From 2000 to 2010, alcohol-induced deaths in the state increased by 26.6%, according to a Wisconsin Policy Forum report. Then, from 2010 to 2020, those deaths more than doubled, increasing by 115.4%.

And alcohol sales continued to climb well into the pandemic.

“As a culture, we have been drinking more alcohol during the pandemic. Already, we were consuming more previous to that, but the pandemic really amped things up,” Wittke said. “The speculation is that’s part of what’s driving the increase in in these fatalities and alcohol-related crashes.”

She said it’s time for Wisconsinites, law enforcement and local officials to “take a step back” and examine the dangerous effects of drinking and driving.

Thirteen Dane County police departments, the county Sheriff’s Office — all of which are TSC-members — have grant funding from the state’s Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Safety to cover police overtime for traffic enforcement efforts aimed at curbing dangerous driving behaviors.

Wittke contended much more needs to be done.

“We can’t enforce our way out of this problem. There just will never be enough police resources,” she said. “That’s what’s really exciting about the Traffic Safety Commission … we’ll be figuring out how to how to implement some strategies to address the problem.”

The upward trend is a continuation of one Dane County saw last year as well, with an unprecedentedly high number of fatal crashes in 2021 caused by both speeding and drug use. As a result, the TSC gave four task forces the job of finding solutions.

She said TSC and all its local partners will have to think creatively to address the trend, but the first step is awareness and education.

“(We’re) putting it back on the radar that this is not acceptable, and it’s definitely going the wrong direction,” Wittke said.

The city’s Vision Zero initiative aims to eliminate traffic deaths and severe injuries on city streets to prevent avoidable fatal crashes using data-driven strategy. A key policy platform for Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, her office did not respond to questions of how the initiative intends to address the major spike in alcohol-related crashes by publication.

Ending African American Deaths from Despair Opening Remarks

AAOC Ending African American Deaths from Despair – Joe Parisi, Dane County Executive, Webinar Series Opening Remarks Friday, June 5, 2020

“Words cannot express my sorrow at this heartbreaking moment in our nation’s history. Inexcusable violence against unarmed African Americans has gone unchecked for far too long. These crimes are indefensible.

We’re reminded at times like these that African American community members are in poorer health than white Americans FOR A REASON. Research on health disparities is clear: the trauma of experiencing and viewing relentless instances of violence and discrimination against people simply because of their race, along with structural racism that deprives African Americans of opportunities to achieve the same level of success as white Americans, takes a toll on African American mental and physical health.

It is in this context that I welcome you to this Ending African American Deaths from Despair webinar series. This conference has been in the planning stages for months, but it could not be more timely. Although the term “deaths from despair” was coined to refer to a recent spike in deaths among white Americans from opioid overdose, suicide and chronic alcoholism, African Americans bear a disproportionate burden of these deaths in Dane County. And we are concerned that trauma from recent events – violence plus the disproportionate impacts of the coronavirus on the Black community – will exacerbate this trend.

The goal of this webinar series is to offer concrete solutions and opportunities for involvement to prevent deaths from despair from the African American perspective. The program was planned by the African American Opioid Coalition, a group of Black leaders convened 3 years ago under the auspices of Safe Communities to reduce drug harm in the community.

I am excited to announce that this webinar series kicks off my Ending Deaths from Despair Initiative, launched with planning support from Safe Communities. In coming months we will convene a Task Force of community and clinical mental health, faith and business leaders, first responders and advocates to implement a coordinated plan to end deaths from despair:  deaths from suicide, overdose and chronic alcoholism.

In addition to work beginning during this webinar series, our action plan will include making recovery coaching and peer support available via EMS and emergency rooms for people experiencing a suicidal crisis, building partnerships with gun shops to increase safe storage options, and continuing our important work to establish Dane County’s Universal Access Center.

It is significant that this work begins thanks to leadership of Dane County’s African American community. Through this webinar series, we will learn important lessons about connection and resilience that we can apply to our work community-wide.  The African American Opioid Coalition is an innovator – and we appreciate their leadership and guidance as we move forward.

I am committed to continuing to work in partnership with the African American community to make Dane County a place of opportunity, fairness and justice for all who live here, and to work for the day when every person of color has access to the opportunity and safety they deserve, free from the trauma of racism.”

Purple Lights for Recovery

Show your support for those in recovery by participating in September’s events and lighting your business, organization or home in purple lights. When you do, you’ll be joining others who have lit the purple lights in past years including:

  • Madison Municipal Building
  • LaCrosse Bridge
  • Appleton Houdini Square
  • Google Main Campus
  • Niagara Falls
  • Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame
  • Seattle Space Needle
  • Various State Capitols

If you represent an organization, let us know about your commitment to purple lights Recovery Month by completing a short form. We’ll be celebrating your group’s building in a Wall of Fame slide show on our website.

If you are an individual, Safe Communities will provide one free purple light bulb for your home at our International Overdose Awareness Day event on August 31. Please complete this form by August 15th so we can be sure to have enough lights for everyone.

September is National Recovery Month

September is National Recovery Month

In honor of those we’ve lost, National Recovery Month is meant to find hope in the reality that recovery from substance use and mental health disorders happens. Recovery benefits everyone – families, friends, employers, neighborhoods – as well as the person in recovery.

This September marks the 33rd annual National Recovery Month to celebrate the gains made by those in recovery – just as we celebrate improvements made by people with other chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease.  But unlike those conditions, people living with mental health, substance use, and co-occurring disorders often face shame and stigma.

Please join us for these locally-sponsored National Recovery Month events:

 

Stories of Gratitude: Conversations with Helping Professionals Who’ve Fostered Recovery

Premiering on www.safercommunity.net
September 9, 2022

Join us to hear how professionals showing kindness and concern can make all the difference to people struggling with addiction.  During this series of conversations between people in recovery and the professionals who helped them get there, you’ll witness the impact a helping professional can have in a person’s life. These moving videos could be used during staff trainings to combat the ‘compassion fatigue’ hospital emergency room staff, paramedics and law enforcement are experiencing, with overdose deaths at an all time high. Thanks to American Family Institute for making this series possible.

Purple Lights for Recovery
Show your support for those in recovery by lighting your business, organization or home in purple lights.

Click here by August 15th to reserve your purple light. Arrange to pick up your light at International Overdose Awareness Day event on August 31st, or at Safe Communities’ office Monday – Friday 9 AM – 4 PM. Questions? Contact Safe Communities at info@safercommunity.net, (608) 441-3060

Rally for Recovery and Resource Fair
Hosted by Wisconsin Voices for Recovery
September 10th
Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison
visit Wisconsin Voices for Recovery website for details https://wisconsinvoicesforrecovery.org/category/events/

Viewing of Tipping the Pain Scale movie and Call to Action to Pass a Good Samaritan Law in Wisconsin
Hosted by Wisconsin Recovery Advocacy Project

Wednesday, September 28, 2022
Marcus Theaters Ultra Point Cinema
7:30 PM
$12
Purchase tickets at https://gathr.us/screening/32081
https://actionnetwork.org/groups/wisconsin-recovery-advocacy-project

Peers in the Park

Peers in the Park Events

Struggling with addiction and looking for help and support? Join us if you’d like to talk to a recovery coach, learn about resources available to you, and be in the company of people who will walk beside you without judgment.

The Recovery Coaches you’ll meet at Peers in the Park are in long term recovery and have received special training to help you on your path, whatever that looks like. Recovery coaches do not take the place of a therapist or sponsor. Our coaches have lived experienced — they can relate to what you’re going through.

At these Peers in the Park events, Safe Communities Recovery Coaches will host a cookout picnic (free), distribute naloxone and fentanyl test strips and be on-hand to listen and help:

Wednesdays, 4-7 PM
June 29 Kick-off at James Madison Park Shelter. Please join us!
July 13 Tenney Park
July 27 Brittingham Park
August 10 Hiestand Park
Aug 24 Penn Park
Sept 7 Demetral Park

 

 

Ending Deaths from Despair Webinar Series

Upcoming and Past Webinars

Hosted by Ending Deaths from Despair Task Force 

 

Preventing Farmer Suicides
Panel Facilitator: Sara Kohlbeck, MPH
Director, Division of Suicide Prevention
Comprehensive Injury Center
Medical College of Wisconsin

Friday, September 23, 2022
Noon – 12:55 PM

http://factv.fitchburgwi.gov/CablecastPublicSite/watch/3?channel=2

Intended audience: All

 

 

Harm Reduction and Chronic Alcoholism
Presenter: John Ewing, MD, Addictionologist
UPH-Meriter NewStart

Friday, July 15th, 2022
Noon – 12:55 PM

FACTv Webinar Replay: https://youtu.be/HnO9eSEksi8

Intended audience: All

 

 

The S is Silent in the Black Village: Suicide, The Unspoken Word
Panel Facilitator:  Ms. Charlie Daniel, Founder, AAOC of Safe Communities

Friday, June 17, 2022
Noon – 12:55 PM

FACTv Webinar Replay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pv2MOJHRiR4

Intended audience: All

 

 

Finding a Reason to Live:  Etiology of Suicide and Provider Self-Care
Presenter: Meghan Henderson, LCSW
Clinical Practice Leader in Behavioral Health, UnityPoint Health – Meriter.

Friday, May 20, 2022
Noon – 12:55 PM

FACTv Webinar Replay: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wn9ykZJD3CE

Intended audience: Clinicians and helping professionals