Saturday, October 25, 2014

Repeat drunk drivers back on the road
by Diane Moca

From tragic deaths to major damage, drunk driving leaves a trail of disturbing images and shocking statistics, especially the thousands of repeat offenders, like the woman arrested for her third OWI after allegedly crashing into the war memorial recently.

CBS 58 dug up lists of those charged with DUI in 2011 and found the following fifth or sixth offenses: 14 cases in Washington County, 17 cases in Jefferson County, 25 cases in Walworth County, 39 cases in Waukesha County and 139 cases in Milwaukee County.

In addition, CBS 58 found the following seventh, eighth or ninth DUI cases last year: 5 in Washington County, 5 in Jefferson County, 6 in Walworth County, 7 in Waukesha County and 4 in Milwaukee County.

The worst of the worst for 2011 included Mark Jollie in West Allis and Gary Harrast in Fontana, both charged with their 10th DUI.

“That's a lot. You're thinking those guys have a death wish,” commented criminal defense attorney Bill Reddin.

Elsewhere in the state, the problem is even worse. Authorities convicted James Socha of Glendale for his 12th DUI last year and arrested Mitchell Bundy in Eau Claire County for his 15th OWI in February.

“That's pretty amazing you can get to that,” noted Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, who compared the repeated criminal behavior to “Russian roulette.” He said it's impossible to completely keep repeat DUI offenders off the road because they can't be locked up “for life... it's the nature of our law.”

Wisconsin law sets a minimum and maximum sentence for each OWI. Offenders must be locked up at least six months but not more than three years for a fifth or sixth DUI, between three and five years for a seventh, eighth or ninth DUI, and a minimum of four years and a maximum of seven and a half years for a 10th or subsequent drunk driving conviction.

“Nearly all fifth offenders are going to go to prison,” added Schimel.

But he admitted that didn't happen to Gerard Olsen of Oconomowoc. Police arrested Olsen for a fifth OWI after they say he swerved across the center line last February with a blood alcohol level of .192. Olsen received a two-year state prison sentence, but only served six months in county jail before he was freed on probation.

Attorney Reddin says repeat drunk drivers are likely to re-offend if they don't get any counseling or treatment, which is recommended but not generally required.

“The enforcement mechanism typically is, We won't give you a driver's license unless you do this (treatment). Well what do people do? If they don't do it, they just drive without a license,” noted Reddin.

He said a better way to encourage treatment programs would be to require them as a condition for those to remain on probation instead of serving a jail or prison sentence.

“We've drastically reduced recidivism rates with those programs. The drawback is you can't reach everybody with them. You just can't hire enough case managers,” explained DA Schimel.

IMPACT is an agency that assesses offenders and places them in treatment and claims a 76% completion rate.

But IMPACT vice president John Hyatt admits that when the counseling ends, the risks return.

The clients undergoing treatment will “create a plan, but they're not always able to follow through on that” when unforeseen circumstances arise in life, such as death of a loved one or job loss, pushing some to violate rules such as no drinking and no driving.

Joseph Jackowski of Milwaukee is awaiting trial for his fifth DUI, and his license was already revoked when he was arrested a year ago. Yet his neighbors say they have seen him driving recently.

One purpose of the laws is to protect the public from injury or death caused by a drunk driving crash.

“It's very difficult to describe the sense of helplessness you have when you meet someone who's lost a loved one in something so senseless,” explained Schimel.

The district attorney says offenders admit they drink and drive hundreds of times before getting caught once, and some do it every day.

That's why advocates are pushing for stiffer sentences and more money for treatment. To pay for it, they want to increase the beer tax, a proposal that they say politicians haven't had the stomach to approve in decades.

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