A suspended driver’s license didn’t deter 61-year-old James Pohlabein from driving his 1997 Chevy Silverado while drunk. At about 2:30am on Thursday, February 11, 2016 he lost control of his car and crashed it into a parked car. He hit it hard enough that the parked car slammed into another parked car.
It’s a safe bet that the Ohio police who responded to the scene had little difficulty in determining that Pohlabein was drunk. They arrested him for operating a motor vehicle without reasonable control and driving while intoxicated. The police took Pohlabein to jail.When Pohlabein was dragged before the judge a few hours later, he pleaded not guilty. The presiding judge ordered Pohlabein released on his own recognizance. He was let out of jail about 7pm on Thursday night, conditioned solely upon his own promise to appear.
No one has to worry about Pohlabein keeping his promise to appear in court to face criminal charges of driving drunk.
Approximately 33 hours after being released from jail — at about 3am on Saturday February 13 — Pohlabein was driving his car the wrong way on I-75 at a high rate of speed. It’s evident that he was committing the same crimes that caused his earlier arrest. He was driving blind drunk on his still suspended license and completely out of control. A witness called 9-1-1 to report their own narrow miss with the wrong-way car. But it was a futile call.
Pohlabein drove his car head-on into an oncoming SUV and murdered all four of its occupants. Four young, innocent, vibrant, useful and loved people died at the scene: Kyle Canter, 23; Earl Miller II, 27; Vashti Nicole Brown, 29; and Devin Bachmann, 26. Perhaps mercifully, Pohlabein died at the scene as well. It was a horrific and tragic wrong-way accident.
The article in the Dayton Daily News does not mention the name of the municipal court judge who released Pohlabein on his own recognizance. Nor will I. It is not the intent of this blog post to second-guess the judge’s decision. No one can accurately predict or guarantee human behavior. As both a human being and a judge he most certainly must feel horrible about what happened.
I would like instead to foster a discussion about a natural consequence and benefit of private, financially secured bail. What would have happened if Pohlabein had to post a secured bail bond, rather than simply issuing a promise to appear?
In such case — absent possessing the entire penal amount of the bail bond in cash — the accused defendant has to make a phone call. He needs help to secure his release. He cannot get out of jail by himself. So he calls a bail bondsman. What does the bondsman do first? The bondsman first brings the friends and family members of the defendant into the picture. The bail agent enlists people who are willing to be accountable and responsible for the accused defendant’s appearance. The bail agent needs people who will vouch for the defendant. As every bondsman knows, this is even more important than obtaining the premium for posting the bail bond. The bondsman needs people willing to help the accused and willing to participate in the posting of his financially secured bail bond.
A significant number of people who find themselves arrested are in the grips of alcoholism and/or drug addiction. Such was almost certainly the case with James Pohlabein. His former wife said that months earlier he had sent her text messages saying he wanted police to kill him after the death of his brother. A former neighbor of Pohlabeln said he drank frequently and that she had witnessed him stumbling “half-drunk” out of his car on several occasions. After the horrific wrong-way crash, the same neighbor told reporters, “He was always drunk” and “Somebody should [have done] something because everybody knows that he’s drinking like this.”
What would have happened if a bail agent had to speak to the ex-wife and the former neighbor of Pohlabeln in order to secure his bail bond? What if the bail agent had to speak to relatives of Pohlabeln before he could be released from jail?
Denial is a defining characteristic of sufferers afflicted with alcoholism and drug addiction. (“I don’t have a problem! You have a problem!”) In the warped world view of the active alcoholic it is all-too-often the parked car’s fault. Or whoever parked the car there — it’s their fault!
The purpose of a bail bond is appearance in court, make no mistake. But the process of obtaining a financially secured bail bond through a licensed bail agent requires bringing friends and family of the accused together. It is not uncommon for this to lead directly to an intervention with the accused. For many of our clients the arrest and — more importantly — the participation of family and friends, leads the accused to move beyond his denial. They begin to accept at last that they have a serious problem. It is a truism that admitting there is a problem is the first step in recovery.
I have no idea whether James Pohlabeln had anyone left in his life willing to vouch for him, to be accountable and to help. But I do know many of our clients turn their lives around and find the help they need following an arrest and the posting of their secured bail bond. I do know that as bail agents we often get to play a small but vital role in helping families to heal. During the course of doing our jobs, we often times bring families together and get a front row seat to miracles. We get to watch our clients find the help they need and transform their lives. This is often the most rewarding aspect of being a bail agent.
Again, I am not second guessing the judge who released James Pohlabeln on his own recognizance. But I cannot help but wonder what might have occurred had he been required to enlist the help of responsible family members and friends in order to secure his release from jail.