Editorial

The Observer-Reporter building in Washington

We’ve come to a general consensus in this country that alcoholism is a disease, an affliction that affects millions of people from all walks of life.

According to a 2015 survey from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 26.9 percent of respondents, age 18 and older, reported that they had engaged in binge drinking within the past month, and 7 percent said they had engaged in “heavy alcohol use.” The institute defines binge drinking as “a pattern of drinking that brings blood-alcohol concentration levels to 0.08 (percent), and heavy alcohol use as “binge drinking on five of more days in the past month.”

The reason we’re writing about this issue is the recent DUI arrest of Washington Councilman Matt Staniszewski. It marked the fourth time he has been accused of that offense in the past 15 years.

According to city police, the incident on Monday went down like this:

Staniszewski was found unconscious in his vehicle on East Wheeling Street, near its intersection with Shaffer Avenue, shortly after 1 p.m. His car was sitting cockeyed on the right side of the road, blocking traffic.

When police approached the vehicle, they spotted a mini-bottle of liquor on the floor. When they roused Staniszewski and asked for his driver’s license, he gave them his American Express card. He was again asked for his driver’s license.

“He appeared confused, then showed me his gold ‘Councilman, City of Washington’ badge, and handed me his whole wallet, where I was able to locate his driver’s license immediately,” an officer wrote in a report.

An officer asked Staniszewski if he was OK, and he just stared back. Police said his eyes were glassy and bloodshot.

Officers said the councilman ignored several commands to get out of his vehicle, but eventually complied. He needed assistance to walk and was placed under arrest. Police said they did not perform a field-sobriety test because they feared Staniszewski might fall and injure himself.

In a search of Staniszewski’s vehicle, police said they found four empty mini-bottles of vodka in a Burger King bag, and one full bottle.

Police said Staniszewski refused to submit to a blood test.

Like any other person accused of a crime, Staniszewski is innocent until proven guilty.

His attorney, Sean Logue, said, “Matt is a longtime public servant, and we look forward to working within the court system to address his problems and come to a just outcome.”

When asked if Staniszewski would resign from council, Logue said “that decision will be something that he’ll look at.”

We would hope that Staniszewski, if he truly cares about public service, will recognize that he no longer can serve effectively on council and has embarrassed the city repeatedly. In other words, enough is enough.

There is no shame in battling an addiction to alcohol. Some people need to seek help repeatedly before they beat the addiction. Sadly, some people never do.

But there is a problem – a big problem – when people drink to excess and get behind the wheel of a vehicle. Putting the lives of other people in jeopardy is clearly unacceptable, and people must be held accountable when they do so. People who hold positions of public trust are held to an ever higher standard, so if Staniszewski is guilty of this offense, again, he should resign.

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