Today's Topic



Is Society Outraged?

Natalia J. Garland

Print Version

The summer of 2002 has quickly witnessed three extreme events within a two-week span. First: Leslie Van Houten, one of the Manson followers, was up for parole. Second: Leonard Gregg started the Rodeo forest fire in Arizona. Third: Thomas Cloyd and Christopher Hughes, pilots for America West, were arrested for operating an aircraft while intoxicated. All of these crimes, directly or indirectly, involved alcohol and/or drug abuse.

As a teenager, Leslie Van Houten had difficulty coping with her parents' divorce. She was an honor student in high school, a cheerleader, and the homecoming princess. She also became sexually active, had an abortion, and used L.S.D. weekly. She later became involved with the Charles Manson cult. In 1969, at age 19, she helped to kill Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. She was convicted and originally sentenced to death.

After her imprisonment, in 1976, she received a disciplinary report for marijuana possession. Van Houten went through alcohol/drug rehab in prison, as well as psychotherapy. Over the past two years, Van Houten has been an ideal prisoner. She helps other female prisoners with their alcohol and drug problems in the prison programs. She is now 52 years old, and was just turned down for parole for the 15th time.

Would Van Houten's life have turned out differently if she had never abused drugs? We will never know. We do know that nothing good comes from alcohol and drug abuse. It would seem logical that without drugs and the drug-related lifestyle, Van Houten would have had a better chance for a productive life. Perhaps the LaBiancas would have lived into old age. Drug abuse was glamourized in those days. The Tate-LaBianca murders, however, were so hideous that society was outraged even in the flower-child days of 1969.

It is now 33 years later and alcohol/drug abuse is still a factor in much criminal behavior. Leonard Gregg lived on an Apache reservation, in a settlement called Cibecue or "valley of green trees" where the unemployment level is at 62 percent. Gregg admitted to starting a fire that, as it merged into the Chediski fire, destroyed almost 470,000 acres of Arizona forest and 423 homes, and displaced 30,000 people. The newspapers report that Gregg started the fire in order to get work as a B.I.A. (Bureau of Indian Affairs) firefighter. However, it is also reported that a motivating factor was the rage Gregg felt over some of his relatives' alcohol abuse.

Alcohol and drug abuse result in insanity. The behavior of the alcoholic or addict and the reactions of the family can be equally insane. Society is outraged over the Rodeo-Chediski fires. It has been truly horrible. Society also needs to go deeper and feel outrage that, 33 years later, children are still born into alcoholic families and people are still involved in alcoholic relationships. Plus, the courts are filled with increasing numbers of alcohol/drug-related criminal cases.

The Chediski fire was started by Valinda Jo Elliott who became lost in the forest. Elliot and her employer, Ransford Olmsted, were on a business trip to service vending machines. Due to road restrictions related to the Rodeo fire, they took a remote back way (thereby illegally entering a fire restricted section) and ran out of gas. Elliot's cellphone was not working, so she walked into the forest looking for higher ground where she might get reception. She took two cigarettes and a lighter. She was dressed in a tank top, shorts, and flip-flops. After spending the night in the forest, the next day she heard a T.V. helicopter and set a bush on fire with her lighter.

Her companion, meanwhile, walked down the road and was given a ride by some motorists. He bought some gas and got a ride back to his truck.

When Gregg was arrested, his response was, "Can I say I'm sorry for what I did?" When Elliot was interviewed, she said, "You can't blame me for saving my life." When Olmsted was interviewed, he said in response to Elliot's actions, "If I were in her shoes, I would have done the same thing."

Some Fort Apache Indians seem outraged over Elliot's possible use of poor judgment. Perhaps due to less newspaper coverage, only the local Arizona public seems outraged while the rest of America has moved on to other stories. Elliot, however, faces possible charges of arson, civil damages, and trespassing on tribal land.

This next example is more obvious. Two airplane pilots were arrested for being under the influence of alcohol. One of them, Thomas Cloyd, has a history of alcohol problems. He was arrested in 2000 for disorderly conduct committed while under the influence and was placed on probation for two years. In 1998, he was arrested for misdemeanor domestic assault. The charges were later dropped after Cloyd took an anger management class. In 1986, he was convicted of a D.U.I. This could possibly indicate at least 16 years of alcohol abuse. And this man was flying airplanes!

Society seems outraged over the two pilots. Thanks to the actions of an astute security screener, the pilots were arrested on felony charges of operating an aircraft under the influence, as well as operating a motor vehicle. Their arraignment is scheduled for July 22, 2002. The F.A.A. (Federal Aviation Administration) had the pilots' licenses removed under emergency orders. Cloyd and Hughes will be eligible to apply again for their licenses in one year, even if they are convicted of the above charges.

However, the usual F.A.A. policy is that a pilot's license is suspended after the third alcohol-related offense. This means it is possible that when you get on an airplane to take your next vacation, the pilot could have had two D.U.I.'s and presumably a current active alcohol problem and still legally fly an airplane. (For a follow-up on the pilots, see Gulity Pilots Are Sentenced.)

The variable of alcohol and drug abuse has many faces and many disguises. Is it a coincidence that much crime is alcohol- and drug-related? Some alcohol and drug abusers do not commit crimes. Some criminals do not abuse alcohol or drugs. Some A.C.O.A.'s become achievers and over-achievers. If America were drug-free, there would still be crime. There would still be social ills. There would still be people with antisocial personalities. There would still be low-functioning, immature, or self-centered people who make poor decisions and choices.

Nevertheless, common sense and statistics would point to a safer and happier society if sobriety were a national priority. All Americans need to develop a sense of self-preservation that recognizes alcohol and drug abuse as a danger that reaches far beyond the afflicted individual. (Written 07/15/02 - Revised 12/01/03: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

Find More Topics in the Table of Contents

Return to Homepage


Copyright 2002, 2003 Natalia J. Garland