Lesson learned

Three DUIs and 48 grand later, Dylan Smith says it’s time to take responsibility

Two years and two days. That’s how long Dylan Smith had been sober.

Two years and three days. That’s how long it had been since his third—and final—DUI. The third was just as jarring as the first. The only difference came in how he reacted to them.

Arrested less than two weeks before his 21st birthday with a .01 BAC, Smith eventually got the charges dropped because the low reading on the Breathalyzer—but not before paying $800 for a lawyer.

“I was bitter toward the cop for giving me the DUI—I didn’t think I should have gotten one.” Smith said. “I didn’t take responsibility for myself. Looking back, I wish I had.”

He guesstimates that all three DUIs have cost him $48,000, which may be a conservative estimate.

Six months after his first DUI, Smith found himself in the back of a police car with a BAC of .19. He had walked from a party to a friend’s house, only to realize that no one was home. So, he drank nearly two full 40-oz. beers he brought along and tried to drive home. But didn’t make it very far.

“They stopped me about 25 yards from my friend’s house,” he said.

What was left of the beer sat like a confession on the passenger seat when the officer pulled him over.

Aside from spending several hours in a holding cell at the Chico Police Department, Smith said that the DUI cost him $1,200 in citation fines, his car insurance went up to $90 per month (from about $60), he paid $900 for the required DUI class and a couple hundred more to retrieve his car from impound.

As a result, he stopped drinking altogether for about four months. It wasn’t easy, so he thought that if he cut down, he wouldn’t run into trouble.

“If there’s a group of people standing around doing nothing but drinking, that’s what tempted me,” he recalled.

Limiting his drinking only to select weekends, he felt like he was making progress.

On the fateful night a little more than two years ago, Smith and a friend decided to ride their bikes across town to a graduation celebration.

“I started drinking at 8 p.m. and ended up blacking out around 9 or 10 p.m.” he said. There was no recollection about riding his bike back across town. Or getting in his car.

Suddenly, Smith woke up. Gripping the wheel, he stared out the windshield.

“Oh my God, what have I done?” he remembers saying out loud.

A motorcycle and its rider sprawled on the pavement in front of the car. Both vehicles were totaled. Smith was immediately taken into custody with a .19 blood-alcohol level.

“Jail was terrifying. I didn’t remember how I got to where I was,” he said. “When I didn’t know if the guy [that I hit] was OK … it was a waking-up point.”

Smith spent 22 hours in a holding cell at the Chico Police Department and five days at county jail in Oroville.

“After the second DUI, I was like, ‘I can control this. I can do this as long as I don’t drive.’ But I didn’t even know I was driving.”

Neither driver sustained serious injuries, although the motorcyclist had to get stitches on his shin.

“Luckiest night of my life, even though it was terrible,” Smith said.

The senior missed three finals, but ended up passing all of his classes and graduating from Chico State with a double major.

Smith calls himself an alcoholic because it helps him abstain, he said. “I was never one of those people who drank every day.”

Instead, he would binge. “I would drink until there was nothing left to drink.”

But things are different now.

“I try to stay away from the whole scene,” he said. “It took me a while to get to that place.”

Swimming, Frisbee golf and mountain biking are among his favorite activities now.

“It’s freaking awesome, I can have fun without consequences,” he said. “Actually, that’s not true. I fell off my bike twice the last time I went out.”

Smith also worked as a peer educator at the Campus Alcohol and Drug Education Center before graduating from Chico State with a master’s in May.

The materials that use exaggerated scare tactics only make people disconnect, he said. “If there’s a real person standing in front of them, that’s real. Saying, ‘I could be in prison next month because of something I didn’t intend to do.’

“Everyone makes mistakes. What is important is what you take from the mistake. It doesn’t help to blame everyone else.”