Woman who struggled with alcoholism killed by car

Sep. 19, 2013 @ 04:18 PM

Lisa Renee Baldwin died Wednesday night after she was hit by a car as she tried to cross Fordham Boulevard at Estes Drive.

Witnesses told police that the light was green for vehicles traveling on Fordham Boulevard, and Baldwin walked into the roadway against the red light about 8:30 p.m.

A car driven by a 31-year-old woman who was going through the green light hit and killed Baldwin, according to police. No charges were filed against the driver of the car.

The accident is under investigation, and it won’t be determined if Baldwin was intoxicated until toxicology reports come back from the Medical Examiner’s Office, said Sgt. Bryan Walker of the Chapel Hill Police Department.

Witnesses, however, told police it appeared Baldwin was intoxicated before the accident, Walker said.

Baldwin was well-known to police officers and court officials in Orange County for more than two decades. She and her cousin, Rita Baldwin, who grew up in the Chapel Hill area, have struggled with alcoholism throughout their lives, and both have been arrested many times for drunk and disruptive behavior, trespassing, assault on a police officer and larceny.

Sometimes their names appeared in the police blotter two and even three times a week.

“If anybody had more court charges than Lisa, I don’t know any,” said District Court Judge Joe Buckner. “Except maybe Rita.”

Throughout the years, the court and others have tried to intervene and get the women into detoxification and alcohol treatment programs, Buckner said.

“She generally didn’t stay,” Buckner said of Lisa Baldwin. “That craving for alcohol was pretty strong.”

If either of the women was arrested and spent a day or two in jail, when they came to court and were sober, they were polite and respectful, he said.

“When sober, [Lisa] was easy to talk to and kind and reasonable with no maliciousness at all,” Buckner said.

But when she was drunk, the five-foot-tall woman was combative and hard to handle, yelling and cursing at people and sometimes trying to fight with police officers. Last Friday, Lisa Baldwin was arrested after two businesses in the area of South Estes Drive called police because she was intoxicated, panhandling and causing problems at their businesses.

She spent the weekend in jail and made a first appearance in front of Buckner on Monday. She asked to have her bond unsecured so she could get out of jail, he said.

While both women have committed many minor crimes in the community and have spent time in both jail and prison, both women, because of their circumstances of hanging out and drinking on the street, have been victimized and beaten many times, Buckner said. Their faces showed their scars.

Their problems with alcohol were not unique, Buckner said. As a judge, he’s seen doctors, ministers and lawyers with the same problems, “but in a better setting.”

“The problem is the same, but the circumstances may be different,” Buckner said.

Jim Huegerich, who was a crisis counselor at the Chapel Hill Police Department for many years, said Lisa Baldwin was a member of the community who dealt with her struggles. He called her a survivor.

“For a number of people, she was the glue in their lives,” he said. “For a lot of people, she was the back on which other folks stood.”

Alcohol affects probably 70 to 80 percent of the population, Huegerich said. “Only three percent are able to get off and stay off.”

Usually it takes a person seven times going into treatment for it to really have a positive effect, he said.

“We’re talking about a huge, huge battle,” he said. “Alcoholism is a disease.”

There is some good news, Buckner said. “Rita has sobered up,” he said. “She looks great. She just looks great.”

Lisa Baldwin didn’t get there.

“Everybody in the courthouse community felt sorry for Lisa, and many of us liked her because we knew what she could be when she was sober,” Buckner said. “She’s one of God’s children, too.”