Multiple OWI offenses not uncommon in Marathon County and throughout state

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- Thursday, a 34-year-old man from Wausau was charged with his ninth drunk driving offense.

Cole Knapp received a $25,000 cash bond. According to court documents, someone called dispatch saying a truck was swerving all over the road and pulled into the Domtar parking lot in Rothschild Wednesday night. The reporting officer said he found Knapp asleep at the wheel with a beer in his center console and the keys still in the ignition.

During his arrest, police said they heard Knapp say to himself, "I can't believe I did this again."

Marathon County Deputy District Attorney Kyle Mayo said these fourth, fifth, sixth and beyond repeat offenders are not uncommon, but solving the problem of drinking and driving is not as simple as it may seem.

"It's clear that the defendant cannot or will not abide by societal directions with respect to his behavior with drinking and driving," the prosecutor filling in for in Knapp's case said. "His most recent conviction was in August of 2013 and then he spent pretty much the entire 21st century getting arrested for OWI regularly throughout central and northwestern Wisconsin."

"Alcohol remains to be the number one substance of abuse in Marathon County," said Marathon County Public Health Educator Aaron Ruff. "Many individuals who may be arrested for a substance abuse violation, could be suffering from addiction, which is a chronic disease."

When it comes to drinking and driving, for some, their first may be a one time mistake, but others go beyond that. While we do not know whether Knapp lives with addiction, alcoholism is certainly a problem in Wisconsin.

It is why state law requires a substance abuse assessment and sobriety programming based on that assessment for each time they offend.

For about a decade, Marathon County has offered an OWI court too, but Mayo said there are still challenges.

"The hardest part is trying to get them to stop driving," he explained. "There's a new law that passed in March that revokes someone's drivers license for life on a fourth offense or higher."

He said with that new law, they are seeing a growing number of criminal charges for driving on a revoked license; so even that will not necessarily stop someone from getting in the driver's seat if they want to.

"We can put in ignition interlock devices or require them to put an ignition interlock device," he said, "but there's nothing, we're not there making them put it in their car. We can do the order and the court can order it, but then it's up to the person to actually follow what the court orders."

"We can't just arrest ourselves out of this problem," urged Ruff, "we need to support community efforts that address addiction as a chronic disease. We need to support prevention, treatment, and recovery, as well as enforcement."

If you or someone you know is living with an alcohol addiction, there are resources available at the AOD Partnership, along with ways you can help fight addiction in your community.

You can also click here to see the department of justice's OWI penalties for the State of Wisconsin. The list was last updated in November, so it does not reflect the new law implemented in March permanently revoking licenses for fourth offenses or higher.