Thursday, June 28, 2012

'Dunc' Driving and Drinking

By John L. Guerra

It would be so easy to berate Duncan Matthewson, the pugnacious Monroe County School Board member who was caught driving down U.S. 1 after apparently drinking a beer or two.  For those who know him, however, there's much more to him than this public embarrassment.

I say only a beer or two because the breath tests indicated a blood alcohol content of .06 and .07.
Duncan is a big guy, too, which means to be really drunk, the man would have to down a lot more than what it took to register .07.

Matthewson has many reasons to be proud of his work with education and Keys students. His DUI arrest should not overshadow his contributions to Keys children.

The Monroe County Sheriff's deputy who pulled him over said though Matthewson's .07 did not break state law against driving with a .08 BAC, his driving was sloppy enough to indicate impairment. Crossing the double-yellow line on U.S 1, driving too slowly, and a "Be on the Lookout" radio dispatch for his vehicle set the stage for the arrest.
Matthewson also allegedly failed a roadside sobriety test, which we all know resembles more a gymnast's practice session than an accurate test of one's ability to drive. Don't get me wrong, if a guy can't walk straight, or looks screwed up, he should be stopped and tested. But a 73-year-old after a long day isn't going to be chipper and accurate as police order him to perform magic tricks.
On a great day after plenty of rest, it's tough to hop on one foot while counting backward from 100 with your neighbors driving slowly past. Mistakes during sobriety checks carry dire consequences and the cop determines whether you pass or not.
By the way, the officer said Matthewson's clothes were unkempt or sloppy, but those who know Duncan understand that he's frumpy like other Dartmouth alumni. Matthewson is an intellect whose world takes shape between the ears. He's smart like that. He concentrates on higher issues, such as the best way to organize a textbook on Spanish treasure, or as a founding member of The Dartmouth Club of the Florida Keys, finding ways to recruit more Keys high school students for Dartmouth. Matthewson is a dedicated soul but not a clothes horse.
As for his pants being unzipped, there's not a man on the planet who hasn't inadvertently "left the barn door open."  It indicates nothing.

Let's pause and think

There is no excuse for drinking and driving. By now we've all heard about what happens.
Here are some examples of what has happens on U.S. 1 when a drunk driver takes the wheel:
A 22-year-old Key West woman was charged with manslaughter in August 2010 after killing her passenger and injuring others during a DUI crash on U.S. 1 on Stock Island. Or how about the DUI suspect who killed a motorcyclist in May 2011? Or the four people killed on upper U.S. 1 in a drunk driving crash?
There are drunk drivers everywhere in the Keys. All day, all night.
I believe Matthewson should have been held, even though his .07 BAC was below the .08 legal limit.
Here's why:
In Sarasota last year, cops told drunk partiers to leave a beach area and though the driver was visibly drunk, police didn't stop him from driving away. Police believed the suspect when he said he wouldn't drive, but the inebriated young man drove off when cops weren't looking. Less than an hour later, he was in a crash that killed a mother of three who was walking her dog next to a road. Police don't second guess anyone's condition anymore. If they suspect something's off, you don't drive.

Unless you're another cop

The police give colleagues rides home when they pull a fellow cop over for drunk driving, but that doesn't mean they have to do it for everyone. And though police don't press DUI charges against one another as a matter of courtesy, that doesn't mean a School Board member should get a break.
There's no indication that Matthewson either argued against his arrest or has said that he didn't deserve what happened to him. He apologized to fellow board members and the public and that's good enough for me. The court will take care of the rest.

The state calls for the following penalties for misdemeanor DUI offenders:

  • No less than a $500 fine, no more than $1000, unless BAL exceeds .15% or there is a minor in the car. In these situations, the fine will be $1,000 or more, not to exceed $2,000.
  • Mandatory 50 hours of community service, or an additional $10 fine for each hour of community service required.
  • Total period of probation may not exceed 1 year.
  • Total period of incarceration may not exceed 6 months, unless BAL is .15% or higher, or there is a minor in the vehicle. In these situations, incarceration may be no longer than 9 months.
  • License revocation for at least 180 days, not to exceed 1 year.
  • Car may be impounded for at least 10 days.
  • An interlock ignition device will be installed on offenders whose BAL exceeds .15.
  • Must attend a DUI school, Level I, for first time offenders.
But on another subject, Duncan

While we're talking, I think it's more important that Matthewson recuse himself everytime his summertime Cultural Awareness Music Camp (the acronym's meaning keeps changing; the latest is "Collegiate Arts Magnet Program") comes before the School Board for funding. The program is operated by the Educational Coalition of Monroe County, which Tina Belotti and Matthewson founded years ago.
When it comes to his pet program, he shows no courtesy to those who believe it does not meet guidelines for Florida Department of Education class credit and thus, funding from the school district.
Matthewson becomes energized for CAMP funding issues like no other subject the board considers. He sought school district money for the program at a time when the district is cutting summer programs for kids.
If you are against full funding for CAMP (which is not the same as being against CAMP, Duncan) you will hear from Mr. Matthewson, in spades. He takes it personally, often accusing opponents of bias and bad politics. But all this is moot, now. He isn't running again and he's leaving the board on this embarrassing note.
But the man has done a lot for students in the Keys, giving time and energy to ensure they succeed. That should be kept in mind as he makes his exit in a few months.

--John Guerra

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