Monday, May 28, 2001

After 17 DUIs, chronic drunk says he's changed

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — One of the state's most notorious drunken drivers says he's straightening out his life.

        Dennis Cayse's last drink came in September. Since then, the resident of rural Adams County has completed a 45-day rehabilitation at a halfway house, had his fourth marriage end by dissolution six months ago, and moved his camper to a friend's land 85 miles southwest of Columbus.

        Now he spends his time fishing for bass in the Appalachian hills instead of drinking, and he has stopped driving.

        His driver's license had been permanently revoked in 1992, but he continued to drink and drive until last year. That he never killed or injured someone amazes Mr. Cayse as much as anyone else.

        Mr. Cayse's 17 drunken driving convictions in four counties, dating from 1971, rank him among the state's four worst drunken-driving offenders, according to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. He also was convicted of felony drunken driving once in Kentucky.

        Mr. Cayse, 54, became so well known in Highland County, where seven of the convictions came, that sheriff's deputies assumed that if his pickup was traveling the county's winding roads, he must be drunk.

        “I got one arrest lying in bed,” he told the Columbus Dispatch in a story published Sunday. “Someone thought I was drinking and driving, and the deputy came to my house and woke me up. I told him I didn't see any wheels on the bed.”

        One of Mr. Cayse's punishments led to jokes on late-night talk shows.

        In 1997, James Hapner, a Hillsboro Municipal Court judge who recently retired, ordered Mr. Cayse to live within walking distance of a carryout.

        “Mr. Cayse is a hopeless alcoholic,” Judge Hapner wrote at the time. “If he could be kept out of motor vehicles, he could drink himself to death with impunity if that is his desire.”

        Mr. Cayse said Judge Hapner's assessment was accurate. “I was the biggest drunk who ever walked,” he said last week.

        By last August, alcohol abuse had so deteriorated his health that Judge Hapner's successor, Judge David McKenna, asked the Highland County coroner to determine whether Mr. Cayse could survive a jail stay.

        Dr. Paul Terrell's assessment indicated little hope for Mr. Cayse. In October, Judge McKenna ordered him to be treated at the James K. Marsh Halfway House in Portsmouth. Mr. Cayse came under the care of program director Daniel Cassidy, himself a recovering alcoholic, and said Mr. Cassidy's understanding of his situation made him want to change his life.


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