NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – With one Dallas Cowboys player dead and another facing criminal charges, recent events in North Texas are reminding many about the dangers of drinking and driving. Experts say the Cowboys tragedy could become a ‘teachable’ moment.

One man talked with CBS 11 News about a lesson he says he’ll never forget. “I left a party one night, and was headed home,” John Patton began explaining.

Patton said at the time he was a fun-loving, hard-partying college kid and that becoming a convicted felon was not part of the plan.

“We were about a block away from my house,” the now substance abuse counselor recalled. “We collided with another vehicle and a guy that was 25-years-old, who was in the backseat of the other car was killed.”

The driver and front seat passenger in the other car were also injured. Patton said, “No matter what you do, no matter how sorry you are, that person is not going to come back to life. That’s when the real devastation sinks in and you realize that life will never be the same.”

The college senior, just months from graduation, was suddenly facing prison time. “It was horrible,” Patton remembered. “They don’t have a special place for DWI offenders. You’re locked up with people who have done all types of heinous crimes. And you get to live with them, and it’s not a fun place.”

But, it was prison, says Patton, where he learned that he was not unique, or special, he was a person with a problem. It’s a problem he believes most likely started at age 12 or 13 when he began drinking alcohol.

“And so once again, I was under the misconception that I was different from everybody else. [I thought] somehow guys like me weren’t alcoholics. Guys like me didn’t get into accidents like mine. I never in a million years thought that would have been me.”

Patton has always said if he could give back the life he took he would. But, he doesn’t regret the time he spent in prison. With a recommendation from the victim’s family, he served two years of a four-year sentence. The family supported his plea for leniency, and said they had no desire to see a second life lost to drunken driving.
It was in prison that Patton said he realized he would have to change in order to give meaning to all that had happened.

It took some time but Patton said he was finally able to forgive himself. That journey started when the victim’s family decided to forgive him and sent him a letter.

“She [victim’s mother] wrote me a long letter when I was in prison telling me that she had forgiven me and that she had hoped that whenever I got out that I could turn my life around,” Patton said.

‘Turn his life around’ he did. Patton became a substance abuse counselor and specializes in helping troubled teens, and anyone else who will listen to the lesson he learned the hard way.

“I just try to let people know that unless they’re ready to live with something that will haunt them forever, unless they’re ready to go to the Texas State Penitentiary–which is not a fun place– then they really need to think about whether they’re going to drink and drive again, because it’s not worth it. It’s just not worth it.”

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