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Anthony Matthews, the Bridge Program director with Watertown Urban Mission, speaks April 19 at a victim impact panel at the Noncommissioned Officer Academy on Fort Drum, New York. The panel was hosted by the Army Substance Abuse Program to provide a unique opportunity to hear stories from victims impacted by drunk or drugged drivers. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kevin Dunnaway)

Victims of DWI share insights with Soldiers

Sgt. Kevin Dunnaway

27th Public Affairs Detachment

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (April 20, 2023) – Watertown Urban Mission and Fort Drum Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) staff members collaborated to bring a STOP DWI victim impact panel to the local military community April 19 as part of Alcohol Awareness Month.

Driving while intoxicated is a crime for which penalties include fines, losing driving privileges, and possible jail time in New York.

"We just thought it was a really good tool to bring out here to Fort Drum to ... open it up to the Soldiers, the civilians, and any driver (or) future driver," said Tammy Leeder, an ASAP specialist. "We want them to see the impact of what can happen because of their decisions when it comes to drunk or drugged driving."

Anthony Matthews, a program director with the Watertown Urban Mission, works with individuals in trouble with the law because of substance abuse issues. Courts of law in New York's Jefferson County sentence DWI offenders to attend victim impact panels.

Matthews usually conducts these panels in the community room at the Watertown Urban Mission for court-mandated participants. This time was a bit different.

"Tonight is really about prevention, as opposed to talking to somebody after they commit the act," Matthews said. "This way, they get a chance to learn through the actions of others what could happen."

Hosting a more public panel invites drivers to gain new perspectives about drunk driving so they won't be required to attend one in the future.

Matthews said he hopes the program will positively impact new drivers in particular.

He had both of his children attend a victim impact panel before getting driver's licenses to ensure they were each fully aware of what could happen should they choose to get behind the wheel of a vehicle after consuming alcohol.

"I don't worry as much about them because I know they have the knowledge and know what to do," Matthews said. "If you don't prepare them ... they might learn the wrong way."

The Watertown Urban Mission also offers the Bridge Program to first-time DWI offenders for free as an opportunity to start fresh after undergoing cognitive behavior intervention.

Bridge is an Alternative to Incarceration (ATI) program that requires abstinence from participants.

"The idea is to give them opportunity not to have a criminal record because of the first DWI," Matthews said.

Individuals who fail the program by getting another DWI, failing to show up, or continuing to drink receive an aggravated DWI charge.

Most of the funding for the Bridge Program comes from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. The STOP DWI program supports Matthews' efforts to facilitate victim impact panels.

The Army Substance Abuse Program provides education and early intervention to help commanders, civilian supervisors, and the installation community reduce lifestyle risk factors to increase healthy outcomes. For additional information or resources, call (315) 772-6704.