Vehicle seizure among new DUI proposals
OAKFIELD -- All across the state, hundreds of times a year, drunk drivers kill innocent victims in an instant.
Now family members of some of those victims are devoting a lifetime to toughening Wisconsin's DUI laws.
"I just wished it wasn't happening," recalled Tara Stiebs, who was walking beside 16-year-old Nikki Kehm when a car struck her friend and tossed her 100 feet in the air in the Town of Scott in July 2008.
"She's robbed of her life and of her future and her dreams, and we are robbed of her," said Kathy Kehm, the victim’s mother.
The teen from Glenbeulah is one of more than 200 victims killed by drunk drivers every year in Wisconsin, victims like 45-year-old Dawn Glogovsky of Brighton, 18-year-old Matthew Malkowski of Grafton and 68-year-old retired trucker Darwin Hoefert Sr. of Crivitz.
"We don't want other people experiencing the same loss that we have for a purpose that could be prevented," explained Darwin's daughter Dawn Johnson.
State Representative Jim Ott (R-Mequon) has some ideas about how to prevent people from drinking and driving.
In the next legislative session, he plans to introduce five separate bills: To make first-time DUI a crime (not just a traffic ticket), to require a mandatory court appearance by the suspect (not just the defendant's lawyer) for any DUI, to make third-time DUI a felony, to permanently seize the vehicle of anyone convicted of drunk driving three times, and to create a minimum sentence of multiple years in prison for homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle.
"You have to take a multi-faceted approach," explained Rep. Ott. "The part that I'm able to work on in the legislature is toughening the laws, and I think that's a big part of the solution, because the laws in Wisconsin are not tough enough."
Susan Hoefert agrees, recalling the anger she felt when the drunk driver who killed her husband Darwin got one year in jail out of a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.
"We knew what the DA was going after (10 years). They were in shock as much as we were for what he ended up getting," recalled Susan.
Many Wisconsin drivers know they won't go to jail for a first DUI if no one is hurt.
Some realize there is no mandatory prison time, just county jail, if you are convicted of two, three, four, five, or six DUIs.
But you will face a mandatory minimum of three years in prison if convicted of a seventh DUI.
If you kill someone while driving drunk, you could walk away on probation or get a year of Huber work release, like Russell Peters, convicted of killing Darwin Hoefert Sr. in a drunk driving crash.
Such work release programs include stipulations that the released inmate is not allowed to drink alcohol. "Yeah, he's not allowed to. But guess how many do," complained Darwin's daughter Laura Luebke, who's been an alcohol and drug counselor for years.
She lost her father when Peters plowed down three signs and kept going, right into Darwin's truck.
Laura's sister Dawn is one of many whose grief is fueling the drive for change.
Since her father died, she's been meeting with politicians to push for new laws in honor of her dad.
"I think he'd be proud, and I liked that feeling when he was proud of me. So it's something I need to continue to pursue," Dawn declared.
That kind of effort helped increase DUI penalties in 2009, but lawmakers say that is not enough.
If some of Rep. Ott's proposals pass, he says he will focus even more on publicizing the new laws, so they'll serve as a deterrent to drinking and driving.
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