Bitterroot youth get classes on DUI

2010-04-21T00:00:00Z Bitterroot youth get classes on DUIby JEFF SCHMERKER - Staff Reporter Ravalli Republic
April 21, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Bobby Petrocelli had driven home from coaching a high school football game, had dinner with his wife, watched a little television, and gotten in bed. He kissed his wife good night and noticed the light of a full moon coming into his bedroom before drifting off to sleep.

When he woke with a start later that night, there was an odd fog in the room and a bright light. He went into the bathroom to find his face covered in blood. When he turned around he saw a Ford F-150 crashed through his bedroom, his wife struggling underneath the truck.

The truck, driven by a drunk man, had crashed through his bedroom. Petrocelli, who had grown up in New York and was living in Texas at the time, was seriously injured, but his wife died. The worst moment of it, he said, was watching his house recede through the windows of the ambulance as he was taken to the hospital. Later, at the funeral, he was not ready to bury his wife, but of all who came to comfort him, it was his own students who were in fact the most helpful.

Petrocelli has thought a lot about what drove the man to drive drunk. It was pain, from fear and rejection, that caused the man to seek solace in alcoholism. People get broken hearts, he said, and suffer from insecurity and inferiority.

"You are told or you think, I'm not good enough, and, I can't, and when you do that you never realize your potential," he said.

Petrocelli, who is now a writer, motivational speaker and who has the Web site, was brought to the valley as part of the Ravalli County DUI Task Force's annual 8th Grade Transitions classes. Petrocelli, who lives in Tampa, Fla., toured Bitterroot schools and the Trapper Creek Job Corps, talking to mostly middle school students about realizing your potential and living in the moment.

On Tuesday he spoke to about 100 eighth graders at Corvallis Middle School.

Petrocelli had a surprising statement for the kids: he forgave the man who killed his wife.

"You can't control what other people do to you," he said. "You can only control your response."

But a lot of people never respond. If a bird pooped on your head, Petrocelli said, you'd clean it off, right? Having a muted or inadequate response to a big event is the equivalent, he said, of walking around with bird poop still on your head.

Drug use and alcohol use, he said, are the symptoms of untreated fear and rejection.

Petrocelli's visit was cosponsored by the Ravalli County Prevention Coalition and put on with the assistance of Missoula County Sheriff's Office, Ravalli County Sheriff's Office, Ravalli County Youth Probation, Jones Korman Insurance, Western States Insurance, Kids First, Knights of Columbus, the Ravalli County Attorney's Office and Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital. In all, the message went out to 1,000 students over the course of three days.

After his talk in a school auditorium, local officials and professionals drove home a slightly different message.

In a smaller classroom setting, Tami Lewis, a sales executive from Western States Insurance, told kids that it usually costs a family an extra $100 a month in added costs to add a 16-year-old driver to the family's car insurance plan. Pricey, yes, but nothing compared to what happens if the new driver winds up with a ticket, an accident claim or a minor in possession of alcohol charge.

"That will raise your parents' rates," she said, "and could even force the cancellation of the policy."

Claims and accidents stay on your driving record for three years, she said, but DUIs stay on for much longer. But the family of a youth who has driven drunk and killed or injured a friend could be facing something even worse - thousands of dollars in medical claims.

"You could be putting your parents in jeopardy," he said. "You can really ruin your parents financially."

Ben Thoesen, the operations manager for Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital's EMS, is often the first to arrive at the scene of alcohol-related accidents.

It's never pretty, he said.

"I can say definitely there is never a positive outcome in a DUI response," he told students.

But not only are there injured drivers and passengers and crumpled cars, there are families who are impacted as well. Such an event, he said, is never isolated.

"What we do ourselves affects everyone around us," he said. He told a story about responding to a 2 a.m. head-on accident that left two dead. One man had, in the backseat of his car, the photos and report cards of his three children. "It dawned on me at that moment that what we do affects everybody. The changes you make from today forward don't just affect yourselves."

Ever see kids out shovelling snow on a Saturday afternoon? They might be working off community service after receiving a minor in possession of alcohol ticket, said Madison Ruetten, deputy probation officer from the 21st Judicial District. And they're the lucky ones. The unlucky ones are spending the night in the youth detention center.

Youth who get a minor in possession pay a minimum $100 fine, perform 20 hours of community service, lose their license for 30 days, and have to attend Sober Saturday.

"This gives them a taste of what probation is like so they don't want to return," Ruetten told students. The main thing is to keep youth out of the gaze of a judge.

"When you wind up before a judge, the decision making process is out of our hands," she said. "When he puts his hammer down it's a lot bigger consequence than when you are dealing with us."

Reporter Jeff Schmerker can be reached at 363-3300 or

View sample youth court and probation documents at


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