Monday, April 28, 2008

Past Sentencing Raises Questions In Wake of Triple-Fatal Wreck In Oconomowoc

The Waukesha County man charged with three counts of vehicular homicide while driving intoxicated (under the influence of painkillers, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety pills) after last Friday's gruesome wreck in Oconomowoc had been charged with his third OWI in July, 2007, records show.

According to the state DOT website, a third OWI conviction can carry a maximum penalty of a year in jail, and confiscation of the vehicle.

Had those penalties been imposed when the driver, former physician Mark Benson, finally pleaded guilty to that third OWI just two days before the wreck, Benson would not have been back on the road and in his heavy Cadillac Escalade that rear-ended a Honda Accord, killing a pregnant woman and her nine-year-old daughter.

Why wasn't Benson incarcerated upon his guilty plea by the Waukesha County justice system after that third conviction, given a lengthy dangerous driving record that included repeat offenses, including additional tickets after the third OWI arrest?

Some explanations are already overdue.


Benson's 75-day sentence, imposed by Waukesha County Circuit Judge Lee S. Dreyfus Jr., was to begin May 9th.

Too late, it turns out.

Note also that the sentence imposed by Dreyfus, had it taken effect immediately, would have kept the defendant off the roads - - but it was but 20% of maximum one-year potential incarceration, and without vehicle confiscation.

As discussed on this blog previously, Wisconsin does not adequately address intoxicated driving.

A first offense is treated as a ticket, not a criminal offense - - an unusually easy arrangement among the 50 states - - meaning that only repeat offenders in Wisconsin acquire criminal records.

With little deterrence to first-time offending, and as Dreyfus' sentencing indicates, relatively light treatment even for 3rd-time offenders, the state, irresponsible drivers (and at times, bars that served drunk-driving customers described as "blitzed" before their fatal crashes) enable each other.

And the carnage continues on Wisconsin roads.


Anonymous said...

Are you the GOOFBALL at the Chancery in Tosa this past Saturday night, who wouldn't stop talking to the waiter, so my wife and I could get our bill and go home?!

James Rowen said...

Uh, no...and if there's a joke in there, I don't get it.

Anonymous said...

He was prohibited from driving, but he chose to do so regardless.

We can write all the laws we want to "get tough" on drunk drivers, but its often not enough of a deterrent to stop people from doing whatever they please, whenever they please, and for obvious selfish reasons.


James Rowen said...

to the last anonymous:

Since Benson had a long history of making poor decisions - - a direct consequence of substance abuse - - the courts should have stepped in more quickly and forcefully to substitute its independent judgement for Benson.

And for the rest of the culture.

Anonymous said...

In my view the stress should be on confiscation of the vehicle. We don't let armed robbers keep the gun they used to commit their crime. Why do we let repeat drunk drivers keep the vehicle they used to commit their crime? The advantage of vehicle seizure is that it makes it physically less likely that the offender will be able to repeat the offense. It is not a cure-all, but it provides some measure of real(not pretend) protection to the public.

Anonymous said...

Sure you can take away their vehicle. But what if they buy another one? Or borrow one? Drunk drivers will always a. find a way to get drunk; and b. find a vehicle if they need one.

James Rowen said...

To the last Anon:

What if, what if, what if?

The point is that had the judge made the sentence immediate, the fatal crash would not have happened.

The accused impaired driver would have been behind hars.

And if the work release privilege had been extended, and the behicle had been confiscated, it would have been far more likely that the driver would not have been behind the wheel of that car, at that time.

You position is that we are doomed and I don't buy it.