Jim Cooper was indicted for a third DUI last week.
That doesn’t mean much to you, but it means something to me.
Cooper was one of the 61 people charged with DUI profiled for this series on drunk driving in Minnehaha County. I followed the cases of each person who appeared in court on the last week of January 2011 through the first week of December as a way to bring readers closer to the most common and costly criminal charge in the county and the state.
Cooper was on my list, charged with his second-offense in 10 years.
I liked Jim a lot, in large part he didn’t mind talking to me. Plenty of the 61 people didn’t want to talk to me about their DUI at all - shocking, I know. A handful spit out some rote explanation and tried to get off the phone as quickly as possible. Almost none were happy about the call.
Cooper, by comparison, wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. He happily offered up the kind of insights and opinions plenty of people charged with a crime have but don’t share with reporters.
Among other things, Cooper said the 24/7 program was a “joke,” that he planned to play nice while he was in trouble but start drinking again once his case was cleared and that South Dakota’s legislature was arrogant for trying to legislate sobriety.
Most memorably, perhaps, Mr. Cooper told me that South Dakota’s strict rules on DUIs set it apart from the other states he’d lived in, most of which apparently saw drunk driving as a far less serious offense. He said he was “done” drinking and driving, because “frankly, South Dakota ain’t f**king around.”
I haven’t talked to him since seeing his name on the court calendar last week. I called the clerk of courts yesterday to make sure the new charge was a DUI, but that’s as far as I’ve gone.
He might call anyway. He called my office phone twice on the week the DUI project ran and stayed positive despite the fact that one of the stories had him violating 24/7 just hours after telling me the program was a joke.
Cooper is the second of the 61 I’ve seen charged with a felony DUI since the series ran. The other, Michael Wrage of Dell Rapids, also was very open about the issues he’d been dealing with when we spoke last fall about his second DUI.
I ran into him in January after his arraignment on his DUI 3. I introduced myself (we’d only spoken on the phone before that) and asked what had happened. Things in his life had gotten worse, he said. All the struggles in his private life – ones I promised not to put in the paper – had gotten worse since he’d last spoken.
He got drunk and drove again over the stress, he said. He wasn’t out to have a good time on either of the nights he got his second and third DUIs.
I sincerely hope I don’t see the names or faces of any others from the group of 61 during my daily visits to the courthouse this year. I’ve been sober for more than five years now, and I drove drunk more times than I care to remember during the years I played chicken with my alcohol problem. I never learned to control myself, regardless of how badly I wanted to be someone who could.
I’d rather see the people I wrote about last year at the grocery store. Or on the bike trail. Or at least in the back seat of a cab on a Friday night. But given the persistent nature of addiction and alcohol’s tendency to encourage poor decisions, my sincere hope is unlikely to become reality. With 61 people, a few more are bound to find trouble again.