Father of drunk-driving victim: ‘It’s criminal to allow this to go on’
MADISON, Wis. — Families pled with lawmakers at the Capitol Thursday, calling for stiffer penalties against drunk driving in Wisconsin.
Three bills were considered in the Assembly Criminal Justice Committee, proposed by Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon. One would require ignition interlocks to be installed on a judge’s order, not only when a driver applies for reinstatement of their license. Another measure would increase penalties for fifth and sixth time OWI offenses to a mandatory 18 months in prison. A third bill would require a five-year prison sentence for drunk drivers who kill someone.
Photos carried to the capitol for the hearing told stories that victims could not, of lives cut short and moments their families would always remember, including the dates of their last days.
“At 5 a.m. on November 3, 2016, my world came crashing down,” said Marla Hall of Waterloo, whose son Clenton Hall was killed on I-94.
Paul Jenkins recalled April 25, 2008, the day his daughter Jennifer Bukosky, who was pregnant, was killed by a third-time offender, along with her 10-year-old daughter.
The truck that killed Bukosky “climbed up over the trunk and came to rest on the roof of the car,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins and Hall were among a number of families who came to the capitol Thursday and made impassioned pleas to change laws that could deter people from driving drunk.
“He was my life and still is my life and I will continue the journey to let this not happen to others,” Hall said.
Ott has returned to committee with the three bills after several sessions of dozens of OWI bills falling short.
“In my opinion, drunk driving is a violent crime,” Ott said. “The only difference between a repeat drunk driver who consistently drives impaired and hasn’t killed someone yet is when they cross the center line, there wasn’t a car coming in the other direction.”
Some lawmakers expressed concern about the costs of the bills. The mandatory minimum is estimated to increase costs to the Department of Corrections by more than $600,000. Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, shared his own estimate of the increased penalties for fifth and sixth offense with lawmakers as well.
“This bill to my estimate would increase the need by over $20 million a year,” Goyke said.
Ott passionately refuted the figures.
“I’m introducing these bills to hopefully have a deterrent effect, I don’t want more people serving 18 months in prison, I want less people to drive drunk,” Ott said.
Liz Thorne testified that her 18-year-old son Dylan was killed just months after graduating and the driver was sentenced to just a year in jail with work release.
“Where do you put a price on an individual?” Thorne said. “Whether it’s your son, daughter, grandchild. Where do we put a price on it?”
The families argued to criminalize first-offense OWI in Wisconsin, but the committee was not considering a bill to do so.
Jenkins said the state was not doing enough to address early offenders.
“Please understand that for those of us who are here to testify today and those of us who would like to be here to testify today — these are real people that have been affected by drunk drivers,” Jenkins said. “We have lost family members, and it’s criminal to allow it to go on.”
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