In the early 1960s, comedian Foster Brooks was famous in nightclubs and on TV for his brilliant portrayal of a lovable drunk. Lenny Bruce had a routine called “The White Collar Drunk,” a successful businessman who was perfectly groomed but so blitzed out of his brain he argued with everyone in the bar, including the bartender.

Richard Pryor portrayed a drunk from his neighborhood who stood in the street and “directed” traffic. The piece was hilarious and yet tragic. Film critic Pauline Kael, whose reviews were often better than the films she reviewed, claimed Pryor should have won a Best Actor Oscar.

Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack glorified drinking, as did movies like “Arthur” and “My Favorite Year.” But these days heavy drinking isn’t quite so glamorous. It’s like there’s been an epidemic of DUI crashes resulting in innocent people dying while, almost invariably, the drunk driver barely has a scratch.

Yesterday, in Baltimore, Nick Adenhart was buried. He was 22 and a pitcher with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. But a week ago a drunk driver, with a suspended license mind you, killed Nick and friends Courtney Stewart, and Henry Pearson. The drunk driver survived, but if there’s any justice, he’ll spend a good chunk of his life in jail.

The day before Nick’s father, Jim, a retired Secret Service agent, had flown out from Baltimore. Nick had predicted that this, his fourth major league start, was going to be special. And it was, a brilliant, six-inning scoreless victory. And yet, only hours later, Jim received a 3 a.m. phone call that all parents must dread. The outpouring of grief at Angel Stadium, and in ballparks across the country, was unprecedented. A day later, all alone, Jim Adenhart slowly cleared out his son’s locker for the last time.

Donte Stallworth is a 28-year-old multi-millionaire wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns. Last month, while driving his Bentley GT in Miami, he killed 58-year-old Mario Reyes, who was leaving his night shift job. Stallworth had a blood-alcohol of .126. Reports are that he’s devastated by what he did. Unfortunately, it’s a little late. One doesn’t need reports to know that Reyes’ family and friends are devastated.

Last year, 16,885 Americans died in drunk driving collisions. That’s one every 31 minutes. Depending on how fast I type, a few will probably die as I write this. Maybe I should type faster.

In Santa Monica, DUIs are a serious problem. During the first three months of 2008, 92 motorists were cited for DUI, while this year there were 95. In 2008, we had 48 DUI related crashes (almost one a week) resulting in 11 injuries and one fatality. In 2006, a former UCLA football player, Marcus Cassel, 23, died in a DUI high-speed crash as he slammed into Palisades Park. And yet, with all these senseless tragedies, there doesn’t seem to be that much outrage.

Santa Monica Police Chief Tim Jackman worries that after a high-profile death, the public returns to viewing DUIs as relatively minor, something that could happen to any of us. Maybe that’s true. Our last president had one DUI conviction and the vice president had two! But then again, I don’t think of them as DUI “accidents.” Spilling a glass of milk is an accident. When a person chooses to drink alcohol and drive, a crash that kills someone almost seems like a certainty.

To combat DUIs, Chief Jackman would like to see mandatory jail time, increased taxes on liquor to support public awareness ad campaigns, signage in bars, restaurants and in liquor and beer sections of convenience stores. It makes sense to me.

At MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), where so many are victims of DUIs, they justifiably view it as a violent crime. They’re asking the public to support a bill in Sacramento (AB 91) that would require drunk drivers install devices on their cars to prevent the ignitions from starting if the driver fails an alcohol breath test.

If you’re frustrated by the carnage caused by drunk drivers you can voice your support of AB 91 to our assemblywoman, Julia Brownley, at (310) 395-3414, assemblymember.brownley@assembly.ca.gov. (Also, you could participate in MADD’s annual walk, “Walk Like Madd” on May 9. Visit: www.walklikemadd.org. ) MADD has honored three Santa Monica Police officers for meritorious efforts in fighting drunk driving.

Many oppose AB 91, including the liquor lobby, bars and of course DUI defense attorneys. Perhaps the most famous locally is Myles L. Berman who calls himself “Top Gun DUI” (sounds like a Tom Cruise movie).

In his ubiquitous radio commercials Berman’s catch phrase is “Friends don’t let friends plead guilty.” Really? What if you’re actually guilty? Frankly, I’d prefer a different catch phrase. It doesn’t have the same pizzazz but how about “Friends don’t let friends kill innocent people?”

Jack can be reached at Jackneworth@yahoo.com.

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