Wednesday, March 31, 2010

DUI offender gets another rehab chance

Judge warns Watness that prison is next punishment option

Express Staff Writer

Rolf T. Watness

An Elkhorn man convicted multiple times of driving while drunk will get another chance at lasting sobriety.

Rather than sending 57-year-old Rolf T. Watness to prison, 5th District Judge Robert J. Elgee at sentencing Monday placed Watness for 120 days in the Idaho Department of Correction "rider" program, in which convicted felons are given an opportunity for rehabilitation, usually at the North Idaho Correctional Facility in Cottonwood.

"I think that's what you need," Elgee said. "You've been on the rider before and you should know if you don't perform you'll go directly to the pen."

Elgee also gave Watness a suspended eight-year prison sentence and five years probation, suspended his driver's license for one year and ordered that during probation Watness only be allowed to operate vehicles with an anti-DUI "interlock" system.

At Monday's hearing, Blaine County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Fredback said Watness "has a long history of driving under the influence" and has eight DUI convictions in the past 30 years. The last three were felonies.

His latest arrest was on Aug. 17. He had remained incarcerated since in the Blaine County jail on $25,000 bond. Fredback said Watness' blood-alcohol content when arrested was .321, four times the legal driving limit of .08.

"When Mr. Watness is sober, he's a valuable member of our society," Fredback said. "But when he's not, he's dangerous. I think he understands what the state's concern is."

Public defender Christopher Simms described his client's drinking problem as a "demon" that has possessed him much of his life.

Watness told the court that he wants to try again to rid himself of alcohol and would like to go to college to become a drug and alcohol counselor.

"I'd love to work in the trenches," Watness said. "I hate the idea that anyone is driving drunk—especially me."

Elgee said that "it's not just the alcohol, it's the driving that's the problem. You are to the point now that it doesn't matter why you drink."

Terry Smith:

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