Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Benson Pleads Out In '08 Triple Impaired-Fatality; State Reforms Still On Hold

Former orthopedic surgeon Mark Benson has pleaded no-contest to multiple charges of vehicular homicide in the high-profile collision in Oconomowoc that happened when, high on drugs and driving illegally while awaiting a pending jail sentence for an earlier, 2nd OWI, Benson rammed another vehicle from behind.

The larger tragedy: more people have been killed by impaired drivers on state roads since Benson took three lives, while the legislature quibbles and cavils and ducks its responsibility to make changes in what passes for state OWI statutes.

We live in the land of pathetically-lenient OWI statutes - - yet the state legislature is incapable of overcoming powerful alcohol lobbies to toughen the state's OWI standards and enforcement practices.

Wisconsin is still the only state in the country to treat a first-time OWI (first-time caught, but surely not first-time driving drunk) as a mere ticket instead of a misdemeanor/criminal act.

And it's not until a 5th OWI arrest that a repeat offender is charged with a felony under current Wisconsin law.

Legislators are considering making a 3rd OWI offense a felony - - but only if the offenses take place within five years - - and proposals to require repeat offenders to install breathalyzer-activated ignition locks, along with some other so-called public safety improvements are filled with drunken-driver enabling loopholes.

Benson killed a pregnant teacher and her daughter; politicians, in the aftermath, pledged reforms to prevent similar tragedies.

But here we are, more than a year later, and nothing has happened.

No real surprise.

Talk is cheap in political circles around the State Capitol, where the booze flows at campaign fundraisers.

And life remains cheap on our state roads and highways, too.


Zach W. said...

The maximum sentence in this case isn't nearly enough to serve as a punishment commensurate with the crime.

Jim Bouman said...

There has been a tidal wave of objection to making DUI a crime on first offense. Not the least of it from courts and court administrators, claiming that the budgetary burden of adding additional judges and prosecutors and technicians would be too expensive.

My response is to assert that--if this argument prevails--we need to make the first DUI, even if still classified as a mere ordinance violation, Prohibitively costly for the offender.

While visiting my son in California recently, he talked about an acquaintance, a neighbor, who had been caught and charged with driving drunk the previous night. He is looking at, conservatively, a $12 thousand cost for this first offense, and that's assuming he pleads guilty.

A contested case would be a whole lot more.

Sounds good to me. Sounds good for Wisconsin. Make a DUI conviction SCARY financially by making the violator pay huge fines.

Then, make a second violation so much more costly than the first that it will put even greater fear in anyone who even considers getting behind the wheel while impaired by alcohol.

And, of course, tell the Tavern League to go to hell.

(Jim: A minor correction to your post: Benson is NOT an "Orthopedic Surgeon". He was a guy whose alcohol and drug addictions led the licensing agencies to strip him of a medical license, remove all claims of legitimacy, take away the privilege of practicing medicine of any kind and most emphatically forbid him to refer to himself as an "orthopedic surgeon".

He is a sorry mess of piss poor protoplasm. He is soon to be prisoner. He is not a physician. He is to be pitied, but, never again indulged and coddled.

don j. said...

I am for increased punishment of OWI offenders if the blood alcohol limit is increased from .08 to .12

The .08 limit is rediculously low. For a small woman, two glasses of wine in an hour would put her over the limit. I doubt she would be impaired.

Perhaps the punishment could be increased with increased blood alcohol.

Anonymous said...

Wisconsin OWI penalties are already harsh: Just Google "Wisconsin OWI Penalties" for a link to the DOT fact sheet. OWI homicide, even occuring as a first offense, can bring truly draconian punishment. (By the way, first offenses do occur - the offenders are not all 5-time losers.) And the penalties are already graduated by alcohol content, double at 0.17, triple at 0.20, quadruple at 0.25. (It's not in the fact sheet but it is in the statutes.) These penalties, by the way, do not include increased insurance rates or civil judgements that an offender may have to pay. If these EXISTING penalties do not frighten offenders, what makes anyone thing increasingly severe penalties will? What will work is increased enforcement of the current law, so offenders feel they actually will be caught. So let's enforce the laws we already have rather than turning into bloodthirsty zealots looking for another pound of flesh.