Archive for Thursday, February 14, 2013

Former Lawrence police officer turns DUI accident into life mission

February 14, 2013

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Christopher Mann, a former LPD officer who was injured in the line of duty by a drunken driver in 2002, has become an advocate against alcohol-related accidents and fatalities in Kansas.

Christopher Mann, a former LPD officer who was injured in the line of duty by a drunken driver in 2002, has become an advocate against alcohol-related accidents and fatalities in Kansas.

Christopher Mann, as a young police officer with the Lawrence police, shaking hands with former Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin, left.

Christopher Mann, as a young police officer with the Lawrence police, shaking hands with former Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin, left.

At age 25, everything was going as planned for Lawrence police officer Christopher Mann.

The Olathe native was completing a degree at Kansas University and following in the footsteps of his father — a Lenexa police officer — and fulfilling a lifelong dream.

During a routine traffic stop in Lawrence about 3:30 a.m. Jan. 11, 2002, that all changed. Mann pulled over a vehicle for having a tail light out.

A few minutes into the stop in the 2100 block of Haskell Avenue, a speeding drunken driver struck the back of Mann's patrol car, sending him airborne.

"I looked up, I saw headlights," said Mann, whose patrol car crashed into him, bouncing him into, and then over, the vehicle he'd pulled over.

He blacked out, and when he came to, he couldn't stand. The accident and the injuries he sustained eventually ended his police career.

But 11 years later, Mann has refocused his energy, spending his days as a Wyandotte County assistant district attorney and working as an advocate against drunken driving.

‘Knowing it was done'

Mann couldn't walk for five days after the accident, which occurred shortly after he'd completed running his first marathon. And even though he didn't break any bones, the damage his nerves and muscles sustained had temporarily crippled him.

After extensive physical therapy, Mann worked his way back to the police beat. But he was in constant pain, and the occasional buckling of his legs eventually made it clear that his days as an officer were over.

"They said, 'Look, you've got to find something else to do,'" said Mann, who had to retire from the police force just a few years into his dream career.

"Absolutely devastated," Mann said. "It was the toughest thing I've ever dealt with, knowing it was done."

Still young, but waking up every day in pain, Mann spent several years in business, real estate and as a private investigator.

But he had yet to settle on a new career.

"It was taken from me," he said. "It was a huge blow to my ego, my self-esteem. It took a couple of years to stand back up."

After his retirement, Mann was called back to court to testify about an old case. Leaving the courtroom, he knew he'd found a new calling.

"I really missed the law," said Mann, who decided to use his police background and begin a law career. His goal: become a prosecutor and help keep drunken drivers off the roads.

He graduated in 2010 from Washburn University Law School in Topeka, and then landed a job with the Wyandotte County District Attorney's office in Kansas City, Kan.

"I kind of had to redefine myself," Mann said.

More to do

Though he worked to convict drunken drivers in his role as a prosecutor, Mann eventually found himself wanting to do more to help Kansas, which had lagged the country in reducing drunken driving fatalities.

That meant opening up about his accident.

"Before then, I just didn't really want to talk about it," he said.

In 2011, Mann worked with other advocates and prosecutors to shape the state's DUI ignition interlock law, which requires first-time offenders to install ignition interlocks on vehicles they drive.

He's also begun working as a volunteer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, helping restart the organization's mobilization in the state. He traveled to Washington, D.C., as a representative of MADD and lobbied for more funding for innovative programs to cut down on drunken driving.

And recently, Mann joined Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson and spoke to the Kansas Legislature in support of House Bill 2043, which would allow prosecutors to charge drunken drivers with aggravated battery in serious injury accidents.

In Mann's own case, the driver pleaded guilty to aggravated battery, because speed was a factor in the accident. But in other cases where prosecutors cannot prove another form of recklessness other than being drunk, prosecutors can't file additional charges.

That was the case in the August 2012 drunken driving accident in Lawrence during which a KU student lost his legs after being struck by an alleged drunken driver.

Strengthening such laws brings the state one step closer to trimming drunken driving fatalities and accidents in the state, Mann said.

With pride, Mann talks about the 2011 ignition interlock law. Since it passed, drunken driving deaths in the state have plummeted.

Mann said he'll keep working on getting drunken drivers off the streets, and telling his story.

"Being involved has helped the healing process," he said. "It gives the injury a purpose."

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Alcohol-related fatalities in Kansas

Chart depicts the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Kansas during the past decade. Information obtained from the Kansas Department of Transportation. The 2012 numbers are preliminary.

Google form

Alcohol-related traffic accidents in Kansas

Chart depicts the number of alcohol-related traffic accidents in Kansas during the past decade. Information obtained from the Kansas Department of Transportation. The 2012 numbers are preliminary.

Comments

costello 2 years, 5 months ago

This site needs a thumbs down button.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." (Excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt's speech "Citizenship In A Republic," delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910)

Mr. Mann is the man in the arena. Chargeit is just another critic on the sidelines - and an anonymous critic at that.

Bob Forer 2 years, 5 months ago

Chargeit, I am sure you would have a different perspective if you or a loved one was killed or maimed by a drunk driver. Mr. Mann's so-called "agenda" should be personal to all of us who are sick and tired of the shattering of countless innocent lives by drunk drivers.

Bob Forer 2 years, 5 months ago

I don't get your point, Kansas LIberal. It is absurd to distinguish between "good" drunk drivers and "bad" drunk drivers. Whether a drunk driver hurts or kills someone, in part, depends on pure dumb luck. All drunk drivers should be punished. The ones that cause harm to innocents should receive more severe punishment simply, because that's how the law works. A person who attempts to, but fails to kill another person, is not punished as severely as the scoundrel who is successful. The disparate treatment has nothing to do with intent, and everything do to with fortuitous outcome. If this is the way the law applies for murder, it should also apply to driving while intoxicated.

Liberal, if one follows your argument to its logical conclusion, drunk driving is only "dangerous" if the innocent victim happens to be you, your friend, or loved one. Obviously, you don't know anyone who was seriously injured by a drunk driver. If you did, your opinion, no doubt, would be different.

Ginny Hedges 2 years, 5 months ago

As another "living victim" of a drunk driver, I understand Mr. Mann's pain. I have lived with chronic pain for 45 years due to a drunk driver running a stop sign. I am glad he is using his experience in such a positive way to help others. Thank you, Mr. Mann.

jack22 2 years, 5 months ago

I'm sorry for your pain. I can relate, too, as I got hit by a driver who ran a stop sign because they were distracted while texting on their phone. I think texting and talking on a phone is just as dangerous as someone driving after drinking a few beers. I'd like to see a law against that.

Tim Quest 2 years, 5 months ago

You can't legislate morality. There needs to be more of a focus on reducing alcohol abuse and binge drinking rather than just continuously upping the punishment and fines to enrich the criminal justice complex. Improve transportation options. Stop letting puritanical/whackjob attitudes about alcohol control the laws. Destigmatize responsible consumption. Make drivers prove their competence before getting a license in the first place.

chargeit 2 years, 5 months ago

I am informed. I know the MADD agenda has changed significantly since it was founded by Candy Lightner from preventing DD to victim revenge and prohibition. As their education message started to work, MADD needed a more agressive agenda to keep $$$ flowing. They use the pain and large settlements of vicitims to fund their continuing agenda and forced Lightner from her postion as founder/President. ""Candy Lightner says that "police ought to be concentrating their resources on arresting drunk drivers—not those drivers who happen to have been drinking. I worry that the movement I helped create has lost direction." She is disturbed by MADD's shift from attacking drunk driving to attacking drinking in general."" Branson has been frequently reported as supporting constantly tougher and far reaching penalties which he then lobbies for greater staff. Financial hardship and extensive incarceration has not and will not work to change some people's percieved ills of society. Live and let live, invariably some will die. Humans are no different than any other animal. While we are living, live life. Dont encumber others with the ever growing spaghetti mass of restrictions created by those with an agenda. Open your mind and see the big picture (one example) ... http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904060604576570801651620000.html

chargeit 2 years, 5 months ago

How many laws are enough? Most crime is on the decrease, even as our methods of detection become better, prosecution information improves, threshold to prosecute decreases, and number of laws increase exponentially. Stop measuring and rewarding lawmakers at all levels on their "success" of passing leglslation. Prevent those with an agenda and monetary access from influencing bill submission and votes. Many legislators dont fully read, understand or agree with many bills but sign off in a barter to get their bill passed. http://www.cobizmag.com/articles/how-many-laws-are-governing-you-right-now

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 5 months ago

It's often said that when life hands you lemons, you should make lemonade. But, it seems to be a rare thing to find someone who has actually done it.

kef104 2 years, 5 months ago

I am shocked at the pro drunk driving comments posted here. I know of one person who is again serving his mandatory 1 year sentence for his 12th dui conviction. He will never stop driving drunk. He will, eventually, kill someone. Perhaps it is wise to up the sentence on repeat offenders. Oh yeah, this person will get out early because of good behavior.

absolutelyridiculous 2 years, 5 months ago

Seriously? We are going to bash this guy for trying to do something good? You are insane.

...And the natives go back to the cave to roast one of their own. Here on Gilligan's Island.

bearded_gnome 2 years, 5 months ago

With pride, Mann talks about the 2011 ignition interlock law. Since it passed, drunken driving deaths in the state have plummeted.

---that's a lot to be very proud of indeed! thank you! keep up the good work!

bearded_gnome 2 years, 5 months ago

Mr. Mann, my own father died a drunk driver. he was a good and caring man, but in that accident, he severely injured three people. he died in an instant on the asphalt, his brains spilled out.

anything you do to make these rarer prevents grief and pain.

verity 2 years, 5 months ago

"With pride, Mann talks about the 2011 ignition interlock law. Since it passed, drunken driving deaths in the state have plummeted."

I seem to recall a number of people on these very boards excoriating this law when it was passed, saying it would never work. Yes, there are often unintended consequences so I am very glad to know that it is working and has saved people's lives.

In my opinion, anybody who drives impaired should get the book thrown at them. It is completely irresponsible and not necessary. I am thankful that Mr Mann is doing the good work---please keep it up.

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