After going to court every week for more than a year, being drug tested regularly, meeting with counselors and staff members, all while holding down jobs and going to school, two Jefferson County residents can proudly say they’ve graduated from DWI Court.
Amanda Dyer and Tyler Catlett received their diplomas Tuesday from Jefferson County District Judge Kim Bridgforth, who has presided over the court since its inception about a year and a half ago.
“It’s been a long haul for us but these people have become part of our lives,” Bridgforth said. “I can’t wait to see what they do next.”
The court is set up much like drug court, and involves representatives of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Probation and Parole and law enforcement agencies including the Arkansas State Police, as well as members of Bridgforth’s staff.
Participants who successfully complete the program get their fines suspended, which Bridgforth said can be a financial incentive since the fine for a first offense DWI is $690, with that figure increasing to $1,690 for a third offense. She also said most of the participants in the program have been charged with a second or third offense.
Dyer said that every week when she reported to court, she was asked what she had done that week, and her answer stayed the same each week.
“I did not get drunk,” she said. “This has taught me a new lifestyle and forced me to do something different.”
Dyer said she has also wondered what would have happened if she hadn’t gotten involved in the program.
“If I had just taken the fines, my family still would have not saved enough to pay them all and in another three months, I probably would have been standing here pleading guilty to another DWI,” she said.
“Before I got into the program you wouldn’t have liked me very much,” Dyer said. “It’s been good for me and good for my family. They like me a lot better now.”
Dyer also singled out Sheriff’s Deputy and Court Bailiff Earnestine Murry, saying that Murry had on several occasions called her at night, asking what she was doing.
“It was 10 o’clock at night,” Dyer said. “I was sleeping.”
Bridgforth said Murry and the other staff members and law enforcement officers, including State Police Sgt. Davis Sims “have been a blessing. They’ve even gone to people’s houses and checked on them.”
Cathlett, who received his third DWI last year, said he got involved in DWI court a week after his arrest when he went to court on that charge.
“You’ve got to take this seriously,” he said. “You’ve got to really want to quit.
“Because of this, I’ve made a lot of new friends, and changed my life around,” Catlett said.
Bridgforth said there are eight people currently involved in the program, and described them as “a great group. They’re like family.”