The only memory Spencer Blatnik has of a crash that could have killed him last month is the sound of ambulance doors closing as he was rushed to Firelands Regional Medical Center in Sandusky.
Blatnik, 61, of Sandusky drove a motorcycle into the back of a minivan on Old Railroad Road in Erie County's Perkins Township just before 7 p.m. March 16.
Troopers allege Blatnik was drunk, although blood test results are not yet available.
If it's true, Blatnik could face his 18th driving-while-intoxicated conviction.
The first of Blatnik's 17 convictions came nearly 32 years ago, according to his driving record.
The first recorded offense is April 13, 1979, for which he was convicted on Sept. 7, 1979.
On Sept. 24, 1979, he was stopped again for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
He has not yet appeared in court for the March 16 crash.
"That's a lot, that's for sure, but I regret it," Blatnik said of his record, which also shows 13 current license suspensions. "There isn't much I can do about it now."
Blatnik's license was revoked indefinitely in 1984, after his eighth or ninth DUI conviction, he said.
He is a repeat offender, which, really, isn't unusual, said Sgt. Joe Wentworth of the Ohio Highway Patrol post in Sandusky.
Sergeant Wentworth, who was one of the first to respond to the March 16 crash, said he worked with another offender who had 17 DUIs.
About a third of impaired drivers arrested each year are repeat offenders, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The record in Ohio appears to be 20 DUI convictions, according to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
Blatnik said he has been imprisoned for his offenses -- the most time he served was 14 1/2 months in the Ottawa County jail, although he said he could not recall when that was or how many other times he was incarcerated.
The fines aren't cheap. Fees from just five of his court appearances total more than $3,000.
"I bought a couple squad cars probably," Blatnik said.
Blatnik, who is not employed, said he doesn't know what compelled him to repeatedly get behind the wheel, knowing his license was suspended and that he had been drinking -- most times, he says, "it's only a couple" of drinks.
"It's just a mess," he said. "My life is a ... mess."
He says he's an alcoholic, that he's been to Alcoholics Anonymous and other treatment programs.
There have been times when he's been clean and sober, and times he's gone back to drinking.
This crash changed it all, he said, adding that it's a miracle he didn't die.
Blatnik was not wearing a helmet when he hit the back of the van, which was traveling about 45 mph. The bike skidded across the road and he did multiple flips in the air before crashing to the ground, according to witness accounts.
Blatnik broke several bones in his face and his legs were badly hurt.
"The good Lord didn't want me yet," he said.
Blatnik is fortunate -- he was only in one other crash years ago and even then, his injuries were minor. He's never physically hurt, or killed, anyone because of driving under the influence.
Now, he says he's ready to stop drinking.
"I'm going to try to help other people in AA," he said. "I'm back myself and I'm going to try to help others. I fell off the wagon and did stupid [stuff]."
Alcohol-related crashes are inspiring new legislation proposals and technology.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) is a co-sponsor of the Research of Alcohol Detection Systems for Stopping Alcohol-related Fatalities Everywhere, or ROADS SAFE, Act that would use $60 million over five years to research new technology to prevent drivers from operating vehicles while intoxicated.
The in-vehicle installations could range from sensors on steering wheels that measure blood-alcohol levels to lasers that monitor a driver's eye movements. The technology would be installed in the cars of repeat offenders.
The proposal has opposition.
The American Beverage Institute says the devices would become standard in all cars, much like seat belts and air bags, said Sarah Longwell, the institute's managing director.
The institute measures support and opposition for the bill on three levels. For repeat offenders, interlocks -- devices that keep cars from starting if the driver is intoxicated -- should be installed.
For first-time offenders with a lower blood-alcohol level -- such as 0.09 -- they should have interlocks, but only if it is mandated by a judge.
As a standard technology in all vehicles, the interlock system should not be implemented, Ms. Longwell said.
"A lot of people say to me when I describe it, 'That sounds good if they can make it reliable, cheap, and set it at 0.08. Why wouldn't you be a fan?' and my answer is that, our opposition to this is there is no way they will be able to set the technology at 0.08," she said.
Ms. Longwell said the devices that would measure blood-alcohol levels would have to be set around 0.03 or 0.04 to prevent legal liabilities if a driver's level increases as they drive, which would prevent people who are not above the legal limit -- 0.08 -- from driving.
Technology of the sort does exist and has been installed in about 5,000 vehicles in Ohio, said Rick Zilch, Ohio's Smart Start manager. Smart Start, a Dallas-based company, produces interlock systems that require drivers to blow into an apparatus to start the car and then periodically retest while driving.
Mr. Zilch works with different local and county courts when a judge mandates an interlock be installed. He has worked in Sylvania, Maumee, Perrysburg, Oregon, Bowling Green, and Toledo.
The solution could be simpler, Blatnik says, suggesting that people make sure they take car keys away from friends who might consider drinking and driving. Or, they should call for a cab, he said.
"I'm very sorry I got all these [convictions]. I'm very sorry I did them," Blatnik said.
"I regret it. It's ... foolish, but what can I say? I did it, I guess."
By Taylor Dungjen - The Blade, Toledo (MCT)
Copyright (c) 2011, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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