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

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

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

LA Politics, California Politics, Homepage News

Gustavo Arellano

February 6, 2024

Tears trickled down Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo’s cheeks almost as soon as she leaned against a couch to recount for me the most humiliating day of her life.

Tears of shame as she was booked into jail on November 3 on suspicion of drink-driving after crashing into two parked cars


northeast of Los Angeles and was found to have a blood alcohol level at least twice the legal limit.

Tears of shame as she remembered reading humiliating headlines and meeting disappointed family and friends in the days that followed.

Tears of regret as Carrillo acknowledged how she had hurt her chances in a hotly contested City Council race for the 14th District, which winds from downtown to the east side to Eagle Rock. She is third in fundraising in an eight-candidate field, behind incumbent Kevin de Len and fellow Assembly member Miguel Santiago.

I felt like I was letting everyone down. Carrillo, 43, recalled thinking as he sat in a cell at the LAPD’s Metropolitan Detention Center. I let myself down. My career is over. My campaign is over. What have I done?

Most of all, she cried in gratitude during our hour-long conversation for an ordeal that Carrillo now describes as a blessing in disguise that ultimately improved her life.

Looking at a shiny silver toilet in the prison, Carrillo said, without any humor in her voice, it’s an incredibly sobering moment. But I thank God that no one was hurt. It is only by the grace of God that I live.

I arranged the interview because I wanted to inquire about a politician I have been friends with for years, but I did not hesitate to complain after her accident. I told her that I didn’t enjoy writing down what I did, but that she deserved no favors or sympathy for such a stupid, reckless move.

When you said I was a bigger disappointment than (De Len), I thought, ‘It’s not wrong,'” she said, referring to her opponent’s role in a racist conversation caught on tape that led to widespread calling for his resignation.

We spoke at her campaign headquarters, a cute headquarters


She is renting the 103-year-old Eagle Rock house through March 5, mainly because it is cheaper than a storefront. Folding tables covered with laptops filled two rooms. Whiteboards listed the events you needed to attend and the tasks you needed to complete. Carrillo was dressed in a white blouse and a navy blue suit and wore her feathered hair parted in the middle. Normally funny and warm, Carrillo was subdued this time, but he seemed more peaceful than I had seen her in years.

The house was less than two miles from The Offbeat Bar in Highland Park, where


State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara hosted a fundraiser that November evening that doubled as his birthday party. There, Carrillo said, she drank two Makers Marks with soda, with only a protein shake, diet pills, a sip of wine from a previous event and a small slice of pizza in her stomach.

No one thought I was drunk, she said when I asked why she hadn’t called an Uber or a friend to take her to Boyle Heights.


didn’t think I was drunk.

Carrillo has no memory of the crash because she passed out at the wheel. She woke up when her airbags deployed. Soon people’s iPhones were in my face.

Carrillo didn’t shy away from my questions, including the details that got her ridiculed online. Why did she tell the police officers at the scene that a sneeze caused the accident? She didn’t try to make any excuses; she said she thought about sneezing because the wind had triggered her allergies.

How did she feel about officers telling bystanders they were taking her to the Hollenbeck Police Station in Boyle Heights to continue her sobriety test in private? That was their decision, not mine.

Why did she walk out of the Metropolitan Detention Center the next afternoon wearing prison-issued slippers and a face mask? Covid protocols were in place and officers forced Carrillo to take off her heels at Hollenbeck station.

Why didn’t Carrillo respond to my colleague David Zahniser when she left prison when he asked if she still wanted to run for City Council? I had no idea how to answer at this point.

More important




? Why would she throw everything away for something that is completely avoidable?

Carrillo straightened up and her eyes began to water again. A friend brought a wad of tissues.

I met my lawyer and he asked me, Do you think you have a drinking problem? Carrillo said she immediately answered no and then stopped to think.

I’m flying to Sacramento on Sunday. “I love cooking, and when I cook, I pour myself a glass of wine,” she said. “Monday there are fundraisers and drinks. Tuesday: fundraising and dinners and drinks.

Every day, drinks.

And that too for the past seven years [that she has been in office]”That’s been my standard, and that wasn’t the case before,” Carrillo continued. And so I have found that I have been harming my body in an attempt to compete in this world [of politics]. The culture of this work and the way negotiations are conducted and how we move forward on policy and how we negotiate a win all too often involves alcohol.

She pleaded no contest to driving under the influence on Jan. 19, with prosecutors dropping a second charge of driving with blood alcohol in her blood


0.08% or higher.

As part of her plea deal, Carrillo must attend a three-month drunk driving program during which her driver’s license will be restricted to her work and the program. She must also take a Mothers Against Drunk Driving course, perform 50 hours of community service and pay $2,000 in restitution.

The Assembly member now regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and speaks with a psychologist. She also signed up for a substance abuse program on her own, where I pee in a cup every Monday.”

I just realized it had become a problem,” Carrillo said. ‘So I have two options. I can look in the mirror and cry and realize, you’re hurting yourself, or I can ignore it and deny it and pretend it’s not a problem or a problem. And I chose the first.

I asked if the criticism of her was unfair. To some extent,” she replied.

How come?

You look at the cup, you look at the blood alcohol content, you look at She’s coming from a party. She crashed into a car, she said softly. How do you know that I’m stressed, that I’m worried, that I haven’t slept, that I haven’t eaten, that I’m working really hard, that I’m, you know, just grinding 12, 14, 16 hours a day? Because that is also the reality of being elected and running for office, and doing it all at the same time. And it becomes such a normalized way of being. How would you know all that?

It sounded

Like it

as if she was fishing for sympathy, I said.

“I think it’s more like empathy, whether I’m elected or not,” Carrillo responded. I made a human error that has nothing to do with what I do for a living. I have also done a lot of work in the field of restorative justice. And I’ve always said that the worst moment in a person’s life doesn’t define who they are.”

She paused. If I had a very public fall, I can potentially have a very public rise. But I have to do the work.

I took back her statement that the crash was a blessing in disguise. Will she still say that if she doesn’t win the council race?

The blessing is that I realize how I hurt myself. And the fact that I can now also be in a better place. I’m glad I sought the help I needed to get better.

I’m glad she’s in a better place, so why continue with the stress of a high-profile campaign?

She admitted that she had thought about quitting to work on herself. Then a friend suggested she simply run for re-election to her Assembly seat, where a victory would be much easier.

And I remember thinking, that’s not why I ran. I did not run for the Assembly so that I could become a member of the Assembly or be elected. I ran because I wanted to make a difference in my community. And I’m now running for city council because this is my neighborhood. [Here are] my hope, my community. And if the voters choose to elect me, praise God. And if they choose not to, that’s okay too, right?

And yes, I made a big mistake. I don’t deny it. I take full responsibility and ownership, but I am a better person for it today. And I recognize what so many people are going through, because I live it.

She took a red chip with gold letters from her pocket. The center read 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 after 90 days of sobriety the magic begins.

Since quitting, she has helped friends deal with their own drinking problems and discovered a lack of recovery programs on the Eastside and for Latinos. These are issues she plans to work on during her remaining time in the General Assembly and will continue to discuss if elected to the City Council.

“If my very public experience helps someone recognize their own things, that’s a blessing too,” Carrillo said, still clutching her sobriety chip. “If people feel comfortable talking to me about it, that’s a blessing.”

Her eyes sparkled again. Her voice cracked.


the thing that I thought would connect me

to community

? But it is, and I own it.


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