By Nona Tepper
On Sept. 15, 2017, Eric Entler, vice president of the board of the Park District of Forest Park, was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) in Rock Island County in northwest Illinois.
The next day, he was arrested for the same offense in LaSalle County. Less than a month later, state police cited him for DUI in Cook County.
In a conversation last week with the Forest Park Review that included his wife Rachell Entler, a village commissioner, and supporter Eric Connor, a member of the District 91 school board, Eric Entler acknowledged the arrests, the upcoming jail time he will serve, and why the incidents led him to seek mental health treatment and to accept his alcohol abuse in their aftermath.
Entler said that he has since been diagnosed as being bipolar, a condition that leads to both manic and depressive episodes. He is currently being medicated for the disorder, which commonly co-occurs with alcoholism.
"I didn't have much control over myself. I felt a constant worry and constant excitement, agitation," said Entler. "It feels like you're going a million miles an hour."
All his life Entler suspected he might suffer from a mental illness, even seeing a therapist who once hinted he might have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). But Entler was functional and assumed his behavior was normal, going to bars with friends who drank as much as he did.
Entler said he sought professional help in September 2017. Entler pleaded guilty on May 3 to DUI in LaSalle County, paying $2,500 in fines, according to court records.
On March 14, he pleaded guilty to DUI in Rock Island County Circuit Court, and was fined another $3,052, according to court records. Entler was also arrested for DUI on Oct. 11, 2017 in Cook County, a case that is still pending.
The charges in northwest Illinois are counted as misdemeanors and the states attorneys from each county agreed that a single, 20-day concurrent sentence in jail was sufficient for the September incidents, Entler said.
Entler will earn day-for-day credit, so he should only have to serve 10 total days in the LaSalle County Jail in June. His driver's license has also been suspended for at least three years.
Prior to the arrests, Entler said he had been sober for eight months. Today he identifies as a recovering alcoholic who suffers from depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.
"I realized there was something wrong and I had to do something about it. I wasn't sure what it was, but I had to talk to someone," Entler said, adding: "I put one foot in front of the other and take accountability for my actions. I have to pay the consequences."
Entler partially credits his behavior to losing his job in executive recruitment in September 2017.
He had already been struggling with diabetes, the recent death of his mother-in-law and missing the sports and school events of his children, ages 13 and 11. Now, as the breadwinner of the family, Entler worried how he would provide for their private school educations.
"He couldn't get past any of that, it was happening now, there was no future. I was like, 'OK, we can get help for this.' But in his head this was all there was," said Rachell Entler, who serves as the recreation and marketing supervisor at the park district and is also a village commissioner. In January, Rachell Entler was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has completed a surgery but faces chemotherapy, radiation and additional surgery.
After he lost his job, Entler called his friend Eric Connor who, as an assistant public defender in Cook County, often dealt with clients who suffered from alcoholism and had helped Entler understand his addiction before. But Connor was travelling; he didn't answer his phone, causing Entler's emotions to spiral. He said he couldn't deal with another loss.
On Sept. 15, Entler said he had a manic episode and was charged with DUI in Rock Island County. The next day, Illinois State Police again arrested Entler about 2:15 p.m. on Interstate 39 in LaSalle County, according to a police report obtained by the Review via a Freedom of Information Act request.
Police described the effects of alcohol on Entler as "extreme" and his ability to understand directions as "poor." Entler reportedly swayed and could not keep balance while he walked and refused to be tested on his ability to stand on one leg, according to the report. He also refused a preliminary breath test.
He was cited for DUI and improper lane usage.
For Rachell Entler, the multiple DUIs were a wakeup call. She'd known her husband since they were kids — the two met at the park district in Forest Park — and, as he'd grown, she'd seen how he became fixated on problems, taking certain issues too seriously.
"Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before it smacks you in the face," she said, adding: "You don't get two DUIs and think that you're going to live forever."
She worried his drinking would lead to his death. After talking over their options, Entler entered a 12-week intensive outpatient program in late September 2017, where he was diagnosed as bipolar.
For Entler, the diagnosis felt like the dots were suddenly connected, explaining why some weeks he manically logged millions of hours at work and others he lagged, feeling depressed. Rachell Entler, too, felt relieved.
"There's an answer to why this is happening, that it wasn't the rest of us around him making him mad," she said. "There was a reason for why he was getting so high on the emotional scale, everything was very exaggerated one way up, one way down."
But after a few weeks of treatment, Entler's program was no longer covered due to a change in health insurance. His care began costing the family several hundred dollars per day, which ultimately forced him to stall his treatment. Because his medication was not regulated, Entler said he suffered another manic episode in early October.
On Oct. 11, 2017, state police responded to a call for a crash on Interstate 90, near Rosemont, according to a police report obtained by the Review through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Entler told police he sneezed and rear-ended the car in front of him. He was issued a portable breath test and blew 0.179, more than double the state's legal limit. Entler was arrested for DUI, failure to reduce speed/accident and for operating an uninsured vehicle. The case is still pending.
"In addition to having these manic episodes, he was then having these depressive episodes, and it's just a vicious cycle," Rachell Entler said. "When it's not regulated it can cause people to do things in their normal, regular life they wouldn't do."
The DUIs in 2017 were not the first time Entler had been arrested for driving while impaired.
In 1996, Entler also pleaded guilty to DUI in DeKalb County.
Then, in March 2012, North Riverside police reported they found Entler passed out at the wheel at 3:30 a.m. the morning after St. Patrick's Day, with his hand on the gearshift and foot on the brake. The vehicle was in drive and running, according to police. He was charged with DUI and improper standing on roadway. Entler eventually was found not guilty of either charge.
"It was a diabetic episode," he said.
Today he said he's finished a 12-week and continuing care program and is now enrolled in aftercare for his alcoholism. He said he's also on medication for his bipolar disorder and has compared the current treatment to a veil being lifted from his face or the lights turned on for the first time.
"I'm regulated, I'm more even keeled, more measured. I feel different, I feel better," Entler said.
Although he feels embarrassed, Entler said he's told some friends about his diagnosis, leaning on them for support. The couple said they've also explained the condition to their children, who too have noticed an added stability to Entler ever since he started the medication.
"They're very resilient and I'm very proud of my children," Entler said. "They've seen me at the best and worst of times … we've tried to keep this as normal for them."
Rachell Entler said she worries the family will suffer because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. She's seen how negatively people react to newspaper articles, posting mean comments online, and expects that she'll get strange looks and a cold shoulder when she's shopping around town.
"Telling people that I have cancer is a whole hell of a lot easier than telling people he has bipolar disorder," Rachell Entler said, adding: "I would hope that people would see this as a story of, 'Wow, I know somebody else that's like that,' 'Wow, I can relate to that,' or 'Wow, I've had feelings of that before.'"
Connor said believes Forest Parkers will react in two ways.
"Anybody that knows Eric knows he's a valued member of the community and is going to say, 'You're dealing with a very serious problem and we congratulate you,'" he said. "And then there's going to be the people calling for a head, a head on a spike."
Entler, meanwhile, worries about his job prospects, although he's thankful he sought treatment.
"Seek help and do not be afraid of it," he said. "There is more to this than just a series of really bad decisions."
If you suffer from anxiety or a substance abuse disorder call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Dan Haley contributed to this report.