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Director of substance abuse program pleads guility

November 15, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

The director of Washington County's nationally acclaimed Jail Substance Abuse Program pleaded guilty Monday in Washington County District Court to driving while intoxicated.

cont. from front page

A first-time offender, Charles Ray Messmer was granted probation before judgment by retired Judge John Cooloahan of Baltimore County.

Begun in 1989 as the first jail-based alcohol/substance abuse treatment program in Maryland, JSAP has become a national model under Messmer's leadership through the Washington County Health Department.

Messmer said he informed his employer, the Health Department, immediately after his arrest and was never relieved of his duties at the Washington County Detention Center.

Attempts to reach his supervisor, Rebecca Hogamier, were unsuccessful.

Messmer, 42, had a blood alcohol level of 0.35 on June 19, according to Deputy Washington County State's Attorney Charles Strong.

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Legally, a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 and above constitutes driving while intoxicated, the Washington County Sheriff's Department said.

"I've been in the field for 20 years and I never thought I could develop the disease," Messmer said in court Monday. "Now I have a different outlook on what my clients are going through."

Outside court, Messmer said he believes problems in his personal life were to blame.

"Alcohol turned on me," said Messmer, who said he would have a drink from time to time prior to June. He said his divorce became final prior to the June incident.

Hagerstown City Police were advised by one of Messmer's neighbor that she had seen him driving erratically in the parking lot of his 20 Richmond St. home.

The neighbor, who was in court Monday but didn't have to testify, called police three times that day, but each time police arrived Messmer was gone, Strong said.

She also told police Messmer was unconscious on a third-floor landing around 12:15 p.m. but friends got him up, Strong said.

"A rum bottle was found at the bottom of the steps and he had a flask in his pocket," Strong said. "He was in need of medical attention when police arrived."

Messmer's 1992 Volkswagen was found damaged but police were unable to find what he hit, Strong said.

"Even heart surgeons have heart attacks," said Messmer's attorney, Tim Gordon, in his remarks to Cooloahan. "He is in intensive outpatient alcohol treatment and mental health treatment."

Gordon said Messmer is cooperating fully with the treatment and is being monitored by his employer, the Washington County Health Department.

"He thought he was impervious to the very disease of alcoholism," Gordon said.

Messmer addressed the judge and admitted that he never thought he could develop the disease.

"For me to drink now is to die," Messmer said.

He said that as part of his treatment he is taking antibuse, a drug that makes a person violently ill if alcohol is ingested.

Cooloahan placed Messmer on supervised probation for one year, fined him $350 and ordered him to continue treatment and daily alcohol counseling. Random urinalysis was also ordered.

"You are either going to be off alcohol or you will be brought back and you will do jail time," Cooloahan said. "The ball's in your court."

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