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Why Wendy Carrillo says her DUI was a ‘blessing in disguise’

As Rep. Wendy Carrillo leans back on the couch to tell me about the most humiliating day of her life, tears stream down her cheeks.

An embarrassing man was jailed on Nov. 3 on suspicion of drunk driving after crashing into two parked cars in northeast Los Angeles and was found to have a blood alcohol level at least twice the legal limit. So many tears.

In the days that followed, I cried tears of shame as I recalled reading humiliating headlines and meeting disappointed family and friends.

Mr. Carrillo wept as he acknowledged how he hurt his chances in the tight 14th District City Council race, which stretches from Downtown to the East Side to Eagle Rock. She is the third-highest fundraiser among eight candidates, behind incumbent Kevin de Leon and fellow Congressman Miguel Santiago.

“I felt like I let everyone down,” Carrillo, 43, recalled thinking as he sat in a holding cell at the Los Angeles Police Department's Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown. She said, “I let myself down. My career is over. My campaign is over. Like, what did I do?”

Best of all, she shed tears of gratitude during our hour-long conversation. The ordeal, which Carrillo now describes as her “transforming blessing,” ultimately changed her life for the better.

“Seeing the shiny silver toilets in prison,” Carrillo said with a trace of humor in his voice. “It's an incredibly humbling moment. But I just thank God that no one was hurt. It's by the grace of God that I'm alive.”

I arranged the interview because I wanted to see how the politician I had been close with over the years, and who I criticized even after the accident, was doing well. I told her that although she took no pleasure in writing about what she had done, she deserved no favors or sympathy for such a foolish act of hers. I did.

“When you said you were more disappointed in me than[De Leon]I was like, 'That's not wrong,'” he said, referring to the race recorded on the tape that led to widespread calls for his resignation. He mentioned the role of the other person in discriminatory conversations. .

We spoke to her at her campaign headquarters. It's a cute 103-year-old Eagle Rock house that she's renting during the March 5 primary election because it's cheaper than her storefront. Folding tables with laptops filled her two rooms. A whiteboard listed events to attend and tasks to complete. Carrillo wore a white blouse, navy blue power suit, and her feathered hair parted in the middle. Carrillo, usually wise and gentle, was calmer this time than I had seen her in years.

Rep. Wendy Carrillo, 2023, shows off a mural defaced with graffiti in Boyle Heights.

(Allen J. Scherben/Los Angeles Times)

The house is less than three miles from Offbeat Bar in Highland Park, where state Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara hosted a fundraiser that doubled as his birthday party that November night. . There, Carrillo said, she drank two Maker's Marks mixed with soda water, but at the time she had a protein shake, diet pills, a sip of wine from a previous event and a pizza in her stomach. It was only a small slice.

When asked why she didn't call an Uber or a friend to take her to Boyle Heights, she said, “No one thought I was drunk.” “I I didn't think he was drunk. ”

Carrillo had no recollection of the accident as he had passed out while driving. She woke up when the airbag deployed. Soon, she said, “people's iPhones were shoved in my face.”

Carrillo didn't shy away from my questions, including details that have been the subject of online ridicule. Why did she tell the police officer at the scene that her sneeze caused the accident? She wasn't trying to make an excuse, she was concerned about the sneeze because the wind caused her allergies. , she said.

How did she feel about the officer telling the bystander that he was taking her to Hollenbeck Police Station in Boyle Heights for further private sobriety testing? “It was their decision, not mine.”

Why did she emerge from the Metropolitan Detention Center the next afternoon wearing prison-issued flip-flops and a mask? With COVID-19 protocols in place, officers stopped Carrillo's heels at Hollenbeck Station. I took it off.

Why didn't Carrillo answer when his colleague David Zahnizer, who was released from prison, asked if he was still planning to run for City Council? “I didn't know how to answer at that point.”

More important: why?Why would she throw everything away for something completely avoidable??

Carrillo straightened his back. Her eyes began to water again. Her friend brought over a wad of tissues.

“I met with a lawyer and he asked me, 'Do you think you have a drinking problem?'” Carrillo said she immediately answered no, but then stopped and thought about it.

“I fly to Sacramento on Sunday. I like to cook, and when I cook, I pour a glass of wine,” she said. “Monday we have a fundraiser and we have drinks. Tuesday: We have a fundraiser and dinner – we have drinks too.”

All I do is drink alcohol every day.

“And for the past seven years, [that she has been in office], that's my standard and it wasn't like that before,” Carrillo continued. “And I realized that I had been hurting my body to compete in this world.” [of politics]. The culture of this work and the way we negotiate and how we advance policy and how we negotiate to win very often involves alcohol. ”

California Congresswoman Wendy Carrillo

Councilwoman Wendy Carrillo during the 2022 City Hall meeting at Glassell Park Center in Los Angeles.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

She pleaded no contest to DUI on Jan. 19, and prosecutors dropped a second charge of driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher.

As part of his plea agreement, Carrillo must participate in a three-month driving under the influence program and his driver's license is restricted to work and the program. She must also attend classes with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, perform 50 hours of community service and pay $2,000 in restitution.

The lawmaker now regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and meets with a psychologist. She also enrolled herself in a substance abuse program called “Pee in a Cup Every Monday.”

“I didn't know it was an issue until it actually became an issue,” Carrillo said. “So I have two options: I can look in the mirror and cry and realize, 'You're hurting myself,' or I can ignore and deny it and pretend it's not a problem or a problem.” You can also. And I chose the first one. ”

I asked if the criticism against her was unfair. “To some extent,” she answered.

Why?

“If you look at the headlines, you look at the blood alcohol levels, you see, 'She came from a party. She crashed into a car,'” she said quietly. “How do I know that I'm stressed, that I'm anxious, that I'm not sleeping, that I'm not eating, that I'm working hard?”12 a day Just brush for hours, 14 hours, 16 hours? Because that's also the reality of being elected, running for office, and doing all of that at the same time. And it has become a very normal way of life. How do we know that? ”

I said, sounding like he was fishing for sympathy.

“Whether I'm elected or not, I think it's akin to empathy,” Carrillo responded. “I made a human error that had nothing to do with my livelihood. I've also done a lot of work in the field of restorative justice. And I always feel that the worst moments of life are the I've always said that I don't decide.”

she stopped. “If I have a public fall, I could potentially also have a public rise. But I have to work.”

I went back to her statement that the crash was a “blessing in disguise.” Would she still say that even if she didn't win the city council election?

“Fortunately, I was able to realize how I was hurting myself. And the fact that I'm in a better place now. I was able to seek the help I needed to get better.” I’m glad.”

I'm glad she's in a better situation. So why keep up the stress of high-profile campaigns?

She admitted that she had considered dropping out to look at herself. She then suggested that her friend run for re-election to the councilman's seat. It's much easier to win that way.

“And I remember thinking, 'That's not why I ran.'” I didn't run for Congress to be a member or get elected. I ran because I wanted to make a difference in my community. And because this is my neighborhood, I'm running for city council right now. [Here are] My hope, my community. And if the voters choose to elect me, praise God. And if they choose not to, that's fine too, right?

“And yes, I made a big mistake. I don't deny it. I take full responsibility and ownership, but I'm a better person for it today. And I'm willing to live it up. We recognize what so many people are going through.”

She took out a red chip with gold letters from her pocket. In the center was written “90 days.” Above and below was the AA mantra “One Day at a Time.”

For the first time in our interview, Carrillo smiled. “They say that when you stop drinking for 90 days, the magic begins.”

Since quitting, she's helped friends come to terms with their own drinking problems, but she's noticed a lack of recovery programs on the East Side and among Latinos. These are things she intends to work on for the remainder of her time on council and will continue to work on once she is elected to the city council.

“If my very public experience can help someone recognize something for themselves, that's a blessing as well,” Carrillo said, holding a sobriety chip. “If people feel comfortable talking to me about this, that's a blessing.”

Her eyes lit up again. Her voice cracked. “do not have What did I think would connect me to the community? But it is and I own it. ”

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