Runner-up for top story of the month:
From swimming in the Olympics to swimming in booze, the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, 29, arrested on charges of driving under the influence at excessive speed (84 mph in a 45 mph zone). This comes a decade after he was first arrested for DUI. “I recognize the seriousness of this mistake,” Phelps said at the time. “I’ve learned from this mistake….” This recent incident proves that, unfortunately, he hasn’t and he can’t. A second DUI increases the odds of alcoholism to near-certain; he will need to deflate his ego to get sober, which is not something that can be learned. In the meantime, the Michael Phelps Foundation focuses on growing the sport of swimming and, ironically, promoting healthier lifestyles. (Tip of the hat to Glenn H. for the find and clever intro.)
In an early 2009 piece on white collar crime, The Economist magazine mentioned something those who have read my books would predict: “Many [Club Fed and other white collar] prisoners suddenly discover, post-conviction, that they had a drinking problem….” I would add that those who don’t figure this out might benefit from greater introspection. In the spirit of The Economist’s discovery, a recent story follows for which the evidence of alcoholism is in the crime itself.
Michael Brown’s mother Lesley McSpadden, allegedly involved in a violent brawl with her dead son’s grandmother, Pearlie Gordon and cousin Tony Petty, over the sale of Michael Brown merchandise near where Brown was shot and killed on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. McSpadden is reported to have yelled at Gordon and Petty, “You can’t sell this s%$&!” to which one of the relatives responded (paraphrasing), “Prove that you own the patent!” Someone with McSpadden then hit Petty in the face with a metal pipe or pole. Violence is nearly always associated with alcohol or other-drug addiction. However, as I’ve learned in the case of married couples with serious marital problems, I can only say that someone is an addict—I just don’t know which of them. In the case of Michael Brown’s family, it could be one, several or all of them.
Nurse Kaci Hickox, 33, defying quarantine orders, threatening legal action and going about her life as if there is no danger of infecting others after returning from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. Before you say, “But she’s a hero, she can’t be an addict!” Yes, she can. So were WWII heroes Louis Zamperini, Ira Hayes and Audie Murphy. The most decorated hero of the Viet Nam War, Joe R. Hooper, and astronaut Buzz Aldrin (who was on a bender until two days before lifting off to become the first man on the moon) are also well-known heroes with alcoholism. An indignant Hickox claimed her rights were violated and the treatment was “inhumane,” after New Jersey quarantined her in a tent with no shower. She left for Maine after only two or three days. Hickox objects that she has no symptoms and all tests have been negative. However, the same was true for Thomas Duncan, who later died of the disease, and Dr. Craig Spencer, who exhibited no symptoms until he woke up one morning with a 100.3 degree fever after spending the previous night on subways, in bowling alleys and in Uber taxis. Ms. Hickox—you were a hero in Sierra Leone, but your actions could have put lives in danger in the U.S. Your arrogance, haughtiness and self-centered behavior indicate alcoholism. This would explain, but not excuse, your behaviors. If you do not have alcoholism, then you are arrogant and self-centered without benefit of chemistry—and that’s much worse.
Gavrilo Princip, one of six assassins recruited by Danilo Ilic. Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, leading to the start of WWI just over 100 years ago. The commission of murder nearly always requires substance addiction, but proof eludes in this case. The idea that there is “no neat explanation” for the Great War, as so many historians believe, may be wrong. Alcoholism is often the best explanation for all manner of tragedy, and WWI is no exception.
Codependent of the month:
Angela Reynolds, 40, arrested on charges of first degree domestic violence after hitting her husband, John Reynolds, 44, and then running him over with her car “several times.” According to a police department investigator, “She was upset with him for being intoxicated.” A neighbor added, “They were always having domestic disputes.” Where there’s domestic violence, there’s usually an addict; which one is hard to know. I have identified a spouse as an alcoholic seven times only to discover I pegged the wrong one (I finally gave up trying). We can be pretty certain of the husband, but can’t really be sure about the wife. If she’s not an addict, his behaviors may have made her act like one; that serious a codependent is truly frightening.
Alcoholic retrospective of the month:
“I began to think vodka was my drink at last. It didn’t taste like anything, but it went straight down into my stomach like a sword swallowers’ sword and made me feel powerful and godlike.” So wrote poet Sylvia Plath in her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar. I suggest she understood an alcoholic’s brain because she was afflicted with the disease herself. I stumbled on to Plath on a list of “other artists” who, according to Maria Puente writing for USA Today, followed the same tragic path as did Robin Williams. Her list “includes painters, poets, writers, musicians and designers: Vincent van Gogh, Ernest Hemmingway, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Kurt Cobain, Alexander McQueen to name just a few of the famous creative who suffered from depression and committed suicide.” Depression is often rooted in alcohol or other-drug addiction; where suicide occurs, the underlying cause is usually substance addiction. Puente, unfortunately, appears to have no clue.
I already knew Van Gogh, Hemmingway, Woolf and Cobain to be addicts; I quickly added a fifth to my list, fashion designer Alexander McQueen. But what about Plath?
In “20 Distinguished Writers and Their Drink of Choice,” we learn that “Anne Sexton and her fellow writer Sylvia Plath met in a poetry class, and the pair would skip off to the Ritz-Carlton afterwards for a few rounds of apparently dry martinis. They welcomed other students and patrons into their fold as well, one of whom later became Sexton’s illicit lover behind her husband’s back. [Sexton] apparently loved throwing caution to the wind by illegally parking in the hotel’s loading zone before pumping her system full of booze.” Anne Sexton was clearly alcoholic; because addicts hang out with other alcoholics and a sense of power and God-likeness are nearly the exclusive domain of addicts, Plath almost assuredly was as well.
Alcoholic side dish of the month:
Allen Trammell, 29, arrested for selling crack cocaine in a McDonald’s parking lot in Radnor Township, Philadelphia, PA; he was between food preparation shifts. Radnor police Lt. Andy Block quipped it gives “a new definition of what may be considered a Happy Meal.” Except for the victims of the addicts who purchased those drugs.
Alcoholic scam of the month:
Eric McLean Slighton, 53, arrested on suspicion of public drunkenness after allegedly posing as an airport security screener for the Transportation Security Administration at San Francisco International Airport. Slighton, an apparent partner with a private equity firm in Singapore and, before that, managing director of Barclays Capital in Hong Kong and Deutsche Bank in Hong Kong, steered two women into private screening booths used to pat down passengers. While the first woman wasn’t noticed, the second caught the attention of real screeners (male screeners are prohibited from taking women into the booths without a female screener present). In case you wonder why Slighton isn’t being charged with impersonating a federal agent or false imprisonment, the women quickly boarded their flights and couldn’t be found to testify. On the other hand, why wouldn’t the screeners’ testimony be enough? Perhaps because the TSA is rather embarrassed about the breach, as outsiders wonder who’s screening the screeners.
Child alkies of the month:
In a case showing that addicts hang out together and that addiction can be triggered when very young, a 13-year-old was arrested for DUI with five other juveniles—all 14 or younger—in her mother’s car. The 13-year-old was driving without headlights when pulled over at 11:45 p.m. There is nothing in the record showing that the theft—or her daughter’s disappearance—had been reported, suggesting either the mother may have been asleep and had no idea, or that she is afflicted with (and makes the rest of us suffer from) the same malady as her daughter. One of the juveniles was reported as a runaway by his mother earlier that evening, another had an “active apprehension request” from the Department of Human Services and a third had an active temporary physical custody order on him. It’s possible the other five are children of alcoholics, but it’s also possible that some of them have already triggered the disease.
Grown-up child alkie of the month:
Former child star Amanda Bynes, 28, getting her second DUI and, again, put under the conservatorship of her mother. In the space of two years, she’s made a mess of her life. Two years ago, she sideswiped a police car and was charged with DUI; separately, she was charged with two hit and run incidents. In another incident, a DUI charge was dropped only because she pled out to reckless driving; after that, she was cited for driving with a suspended license. Off the road, she was arrested for criminal possession of marijuana, tampering with evidence and reckless endangerment for throwing a bong out the window of her 36th floor Manhattan apartment (she claimed it was a vase). Two days later she accused the arresting officer of sexual harassment. In Thousand Oaks, California, she allegedly started a fire in the driveway of a stranger’s house. Aside from her latest DUI, she accused her father of repeated sexual abuse when she was a child, only to retract her statement two days later, tweeting, “The microchip in my brain made me say those things but he’s the one that ordered them to microchip me.” That got her a psychiatric hold and now everyone thinks she’s crazy. How about starting with, “Let’s get her sober and make her stay that way?” and watch the crazy behavior dissipate. Please, someone coerce abstinence, lest my prediction comes true that she slips into a “let’s have multiple plastic surgeries” stage of addiction, where addicts can go overboard.
Codependent journalists of the month:
Journalists, informing readers that Amanda Bynes has a mental illness, when they should instead point to her behaviors and suggest she has the disease of addiction. They are welcome to say she may have or, more likely, may have triggered a mental disorder, but we cannot know this until she is clean and sober for at least several years.
Alcoholic passengers of the month:
Two women, Lilia Ratmanski, 25, and Milana Muzikante, 26, who went to the lavatory and consumed a “significant quantity of their duty-free alcohol purchase,” lit a cigarette, got into a physical altercation with each other and made a “threat against the aircraft” on a Sunwing flight from Toronto to Cuba. NORAD scrambled two CF-18 fighter jets to escort the flight back to Toronto. Assuming the women won’t be able to shoulder the cost of fuel, salaries and inconvenience to Sunwing, NORAD and the passengers, the costs alcoholics impose on the rest of us are incredible.
Alcoholic hero-villain of the month:
NYPD Officer Eugene Donnelly, 27, pleading innocent to having allegedly battered a 30-year-old woman after going out on the town celebrating receipt of a Police Combat Cross—the department’s second highest honor—for stopping a gunman while he was off-duty. The four-year veteran crashed at a friend’s and, at some point, wandered out of the residence wearing only his briefs. He wound up in another apartment in the same building and encountered the woman, who had never seen him before. He allegedly punched her twenty to thirty times, at one point saying, “I’m a good guy, but sometimes I’m a bad guy.” He may as well have said, “Sometimes I’m Dr. Jekyll, and sometimes I’m Mr. Hyde.”
Alcoholic sportsman of the month:
Abdiel Toribio, 42, was observed driving a vehicle with long-expired (2007) tags and pulled over. When he couldn’t find paperwork proving the vehicle belonged to him, the officer, a sheriff’s deputy, let it be known he was going to make an arrest. Toribio was going to have none of that and drove off—with the deputy partly inside the vehicle. After slowly pulling himself into the car, the deputy convinced Toribio, who had numerous priors, to stop and face new charges, including resisting an officer with violence and driving while license is suspended or revoked for DUI. Toribio is a horse jockey with career earnings of nearly $27 million in purse money and close to 10,000 starts, so he too could be considered a hero—and a villain.
Alcoholic untruth of the month:
Lawrence Goetzman, 30, rolled his SUV on an interstate ramp and, landing right-side up on its tires, drove away. Officers found a debris field of broken glass, clothes, tools and paperwork on the ramp, along with skid marks and red paint from a vehicle on the road. When officers tracked him down at the hospital, with a laceration under his left eye and blood all over his face and clothes, he greeted them with, “Oh, (expletive).” Goetzman told police he had fallen down the stairs at his house and hit some bricks. Police charged him with DUI, driving without a valid license and failure to maintain control of his vehicle. He also qualified for the next category:
DUI of the month:
Elias Velez-Morales, 24, who was, among other charges, arrested for DUI, while “dancing” on the seat of an International 354 tractor on a city street near Vero Beach, Florida. He registered a .24 percent blood alcohol level. He not only reeked of alcohol, but also of urine because he peed on himself and, in an apparent attempt to dry out, had his pants down when he was arrested. There are plenty of partially clothed alkies, but a partially clothed DUI is rare.
Alcoholic blackout of the month:
Daniel Suba, 36, waking up to find a neighbor’s televisions, electronics and jewelry in his apartment but no recollection of how it got there. He remembers drinking and pill-popping the night before. He’ll also remember—hopefully for the rest of his life—charges of grand theft and burglary, and perhaps connect the dots between the “night before” and the jail in which he will hopefully spend a few months.
Alcoholic law enforcement malfeasance of the month:
Aaron S. Jansen, 29, clocking in at 90 mph on Interstate 70, igniting a police pursuit. After evading spikes, Jansen drove into a soybean field, where he drove in circles for 40 minutes as law enforcers set up a perimeter, blocking all exits. Along the way, Jansen threw blankets, CDs and other items from the car and, at one point, slowed to about 5 mph, climbed out and “surfed” the car’s roof. Wearing a cowboy hat, boots and a woman’s dress, he yelled bible verses, made faces and flashed peace signs at officers. Jansen finally surrendered to deputy sheriffs and was charged with fleeing and eluding, obstruction, reckless driving and speeding. If you wonder why this is law enforcement malfeasance, consider what’s missing from the list of charges.
Alcoholic law enforcer of the month:
Nora Longoria, an elected judge of Texas’s 13th court of appeals, producing her badge after being pulled over for speeding. Smelling alcohol and observing slurred speech, the officer gave her sobriety tests; she failed. After being placed under arrest, she told the officer, “You are going to ruin my life. I worked hard for 25 years to be where I am today.” Longoria, 49, refused to be handcuffed or get into the police car, complying only after being threatened with additional charges of resisting arrest. Longoria adjudicates both criminal and civil cases. Because alcoholics have poor judgment, Texas residents will be well served if Longoria steps down or at least steps aside for a few years while she works on her sobriety. Message to Ms. Longoria: the officer wasn’t out to ruin your life—he was out to save it.
Polite alcoholic criminal of the month:
Mark Williams, 37, arrested for trying to rob one business, robbing the clerk at another business, running (literally—on foot) from a hit-and-run car crash and then breaking into four homes, all in the space of less than 40 minutes. He apologized to the neighbors at the fourth home, where he had surrendered, for being high and for interrupting their night.
Alcoholic chutzpah of the month:
Ria Buford, 32, charged with public drunkenness, robbery of a motor vehicle and disorderly conduct, when she helped herself into an unmarked police car after the driver had stepped out. An officer in the passenger’s seat tried to push her out while telling her they were cops; another in the back seat yelled at her to exit the vehicle. Ms. Buford (and this where “chutzpah” comes in) informed the officers she would drive the car to her car. One of the officers got out and raced around to the other side, trying to pull Ms. Buford out, when an unidentified man grabbed the officer’s shirt and yelled not to touch Ms. Buford. After a couple of knee strikes to his back area from another officer, the two were arrested. Surprisingly (not), the arresting officer wrote that Ms. Buford had “an overwhelming odor of alcoholic beverage emanating from her person.” The man was charged with public drunkenness, aggravated assault and resisting arrest.
Alcoholic medical analysis of the month:
The Medical Board of California explaining that Jason Lane, M.D. showed up at work with a .39 percent blood alcohol level, because he was “self-medicating” to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. The board overlooked the fact that Lane’s obviously alcoholic bio-chemistry allows him to drink to a point where non-addicts would be comatose and possibly dead. Alcoholics “self-medicate” because they can; PTSD coincides with heavy drinking because the afflicted can drink heavily. Therefore, Lane showed up at work with a .39 percent BAL because he’s an alcoholic.
Wouldn’t it be so much better if he was given a chance to clean up his act and be regularly and randomly tested prior to his likely ruining countless relationships and, possibly, botching procedures and making faulty diagnoses? Instead, Lane was fired and could lose his medical license. This seems to have created enough pain to inspire in Lane a real need to get and stay sober: after detoxing in the hospital, he checked himself into a week-long program where—surprise, surprise!—he was diagnosed with alcohol dependence. After that program ended, he checked himself into a 30-day treatment center and followed that up with a six-week outpatient program, regularly attending AA meetings. Keep it up, Dr. Lane. You now have a shot at getting a real life and really helping people.
What follows is a slew of alcoholic “relatives of the month,” showing that family has nothing to do with the prevention of alcoholism and alcoholic misbehaviors.
Alcoholic dads of the month:
Mark Allen Hughes, 35, catching his 15-year-old son drinking alcohol and deciding to teach him a lesson: he gave his son multiple shots of vodka. The learning experience landed the son in the hospital, on a ventilator. Hughes has been charged with aggravated child abuse. Regular readers wouldn’t be shocked to learn that Hughes has a record of arrests on charges such as DUI, public intoxication and evading arrest. However, even you might be shocked that he has had 18 such arrests; he’s simply teaching what he knows best.
Charles James, 36, “flipping out” while doing drugs with his 14-year-old daughter in a hotel room. He was reportedly glassy-eyed and incoherent. Just what were you teaching your daughter in the hotel room, Mr. James?
Joshua Delong, 28, charged with child neglect after leaving his three children, ages 5, 7 and 8, in his car for four hours, with the windows up and the key in the ignition, while he drank beer at a bar. A witness reported the kids were honking and one said, “Daddy does this all the time.” Delong told police he left his children in his mother’s care and that his wife dropped them off at the bar without his knowledge; the mother and wife deny his claims. The kids may be learning the connection between drinking for hours, child abuse and lying.
Vontrell Hines, 25, arrested for child endangerment after shoving and then running from officers after being pulled over—leaving behind his 10-month-old daughter and 15 bags of marijuana in his car. Before you say, “See Doug? Pot can make people act really badly!” let me suggest the possibility he was using other drugs. While not crystal clear, among the charges was “being under the influence of drugs.” The daughter was, unfortunately, too young to learn a lesson.
Alcoholic aunt of the month:
Djuna M. Tansmore, 48, accused of abandoning her 1-year-old niece in a bid to avoid arrest for alleged theft of laundry detergent and Miracle Whip from a Walmart. When confronted by the store’s loss prevention officer, she struggled to remove the child from a cart (the toddler was buckled in) and ran off without the tyke. Tansmore was also charged with—are you ready?—use and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Alcoholic uncle of the month:
Clarence W. Hairston, 58, arrested for DUI, endangering the welfare of children and numerous other counts after taking his two nephews out for a joy ride. While his 8-year old nephew steered the vehicle while on his lap, a 9-year-old jumped around the back seat unrestrained; Hairston held a 25-ounce can of beer and an empty 25-ounce beer can was found in the center console. An officer had noticed the car moving erratically, stopping in the middle of the road, then accelerating and then braking, before striking a parked car. When the car stopped, Hairston got out, beer in hand. The cop observed, “He’s pretty drunk.”
Codependent mom of the month:
The mother of the kids who Clarence W. Hairston had in his car. Mom told officers that while she was aware Hairston was intoxicated, she would never have let him take the kids for a drive and “definitely” wouldn’t let the children drive. But she’d let him—an obviously known drunk—watch her children?
Alcoholic parents of the month:
Michael Pierce, 41, and his wife Melanie Pierce, 34, arrested after passing out from a heroin overdose in their car in a restaurant parking lot, with their 4-year-old and 11-month-old sons in the back seat.
Alcoholic grandma of the month:
Cynthia Ann Watson, 51, arrested after allegedly putting methamphetamine in tea that was later ingested by her 2-year-old granddaughter. The toddler’s mother told responding deputies that her child hadn’t fallen asleep since being put to bed the previous evening. The 2-year-old “was talking rapidly, scratching her skin, could not sit still and was very agitated.” Thinking there could be a medical issue officers took her to the hospital, where they found meth in the little girl’s system.
Alcoholic son of the month:
Dwight Ridgeway McGinnis, Jr., 67, charged with vulnerable adult neglect after leaving his 98-year-old mother in his truck inside the parking garage of a casino; she is confined to a wheelchair and unable to care for herself. She was found at 6:30 p.m., it was 81 degrees, one window was partially down, the only evidence of food or drink was an empty soda can and the truck had been parked for nearly five hours. McGinnis’ drinking wasn’t mentioned in any reports, probably because no one realizes it’s the best explanation for his “not-giving-a-damn-about-anyone-else” behavior.
Sometimes, it takes an addict:
John Anthony Walker, Soviet spy, dead in federal prison at age 77 of causes related to diabetes and throat cancer. Walker specialized in communications during his time as a United States Navy Chief Warrant Officer; this expertise allowed him to create a spy ring that deciphered more than one million encrypted American messages, likely resulting in more damage to the U.S. military than any spy ring in history. Even more shocking was that close family and a friend made up the spy ring: his son Michael, his older brother Arthur and best friend, Jerry Whitworth. This spying allowed the Soviets to track every U.S. submarine 24/7, which then U. S. Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, admitted would have resulted in huge losses of American lives in the event of war.
At age 17, Walker was arrested on charges of burglary. The court offered him a choice between jail and the military, and he chose the latter. Thirteen years later, in 1968, he became distraught over financial difficulties and walked into the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C. with classified Navy communications documents. He negotiated payments and a weekly salary for spying. North Korean forces seized the USS Pueblo one month later, likely at the behest of the Soviets, who wanted to study equipment described in the documents (although there is some debate over whether the seizure was coincidental, I would suggest such events rarely simply coincide).
The U.S. government missed a number of opportunities to identify Walker as a spy. Sailors working alongside Walker weren’t suspicious of his swanky apartment, sports car and sail boat because they figured he was moonlighting as a pimp. “Traitor” never entered their minds. Walker and his wife Barbara divorced in 1976. By 1980, she had become an obvious drunk and didn’t want her son to become involved in what she finally realized was a spy ring. She tried several times to contact the Boston office of the FBI, but either hung up or was too drunk to speak. In 1984, she drunkenly confessed that Walker was a spy for the Soviet Union. The FBI figured she was simply a drunk, bitter woman and turned the report over to the Navy Investigative Service (now known as NCIS, Naval Criminal Investigative Service). When the NIS began asking how Walker could afford luxury vehicles and three residences, they broke the case wide open.
While we can’t be as certain of Walker’s addiction as we can in the case of Robert Hanssen (see the movie review of “Breach" in issue # 31 of TAR), there is plenty of evidence for his affliction:
- He was a spy. In his magnificent The Secret History of Alcoholism, James Graham devoted an entire chapter to spies and other heroes, as well as traitors and other anti-heroes, many of whom have been addicts.
- Walker’s actions demonstrate his mindset as invincible and God-like, which are signal symptoms of alcoholism. Anyone without that mindset simply wouldn’t be able to take the risks required to sell secrets to the enemy.
- He mocked the armed services; when asked how he had managed to access so much classified information, he responded, “Kmart has better security than the Navy.”
- He was a great liar. He lied not only to his employer, but also family and friends, including his best friend, Whitworth, telling him the stolen data would be used to help America’s ally, Israel.
- His marriage to Barbara was marked by physical abuse. The fact that his spouse was an alcoholic could explain this, but long-term physical abuse in such cases would be highly unusual. It’s much more likely that he was also an alcoholic, albeit a far more high-functioning one than his wife. Walker inflated his ego by wielding power over a superpower, the United States, thereby staving off late-stage addiction.
- He verbally abused his three daughters and urged one to abort his unborn grandson so she could enlist and spy for him. Verbal abuse goes hand-in-hand with alcoholism.
- While his wife cheated with Walker’s older brother, he cheated with women half his age. Serial Don Juan-ism is common among alcoholics, especially with much younger women.
- His excuse in grooming son Michael to take over the “family business” was that Michael was too inept to succeed at anything without fatherly help. Belittling is another classic behavioral indication of addiction.
The last seven of these are classic behavioral clues to addiction, elucidated in How to Spot Hidden Alcoholics.
In opposition to the hypothesis that addiction explained his behaviors, Walker never got sober in prison. His self-serving autobiography claimed, among other delusions, that giving secrets to the Soviets helped to end the Cold War by convincing the Kremlin that it could never match our military superiority, causing them to simply give up. Since sobriety requires both abstinence and ego-deflation, it’s possible he never got truly sober. Many convicts, even those who stop drinking and using, never deflate the ego.
Note to family, friends and fans of the above: the benefit of the doubt is given by assuming alcoholism (they are either idiots and fundamentally rotten, or they are alcoholic/other drug addicts—which would explain the misbehaviors). If alcoholic, there is zero chance that behaviors, in the long run, will improve without sobriety. An essential prerequisite to sobriety is the cessation of enabling, allowing pain and crises to build. Thus far, many have done everything they can to protect the addict from the requisite pain, making these news events possible. The cure for alcoholism, consequential bad behaviors and, ultimately, tragedy, is simple: stop protecting the addict from the logical consequences of misbehaviors and, where possible, proactively intervene.