Advocates against drunk driving want tougher laws

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – Following an OWI crash in Chippewa Falls that sent three children to the hospital and lead to the arrest of a River Falls man, local advocates say lawmakers need to toughen the rules against drunk driving.

In Wisconsin, a first offense OWI means the offender gets ticket and no jail time. However, if a child under 16 is in the car, the penalty doubles.

But local advocates against drunk driving like Angela Owen say it shouldn't take the lives of victims for lawmakers to realize something must be done.

Owen said in November of 2006, her 16-years-old son was hit head on by a drunk driver on Hwy 12 in Altoona. Altoona police say the drunk driver was on the wrong side of the highway.

“He was pinned in the car because it was head on and it shattered his femur and it took EMTs about 45 minutes with the Jaws of Life to get him cut out of the car,” said Owen.

Court records show in 2007, 54-year-old Henry Doolittle was convicted for his 3rd OWI, but charges of injury by intoxicated use of vehicle and reckless driving causing great bodily harm were both dismissed.

“No jail time at all,” recalled Owen. “He had a great attorney and he basically got away with a slap on the wrist.”

We tried reaching out to Eau Claire County assistant district attorney Mike Steuer about Doolittle’s case but haven't heard back.

Owen says the laws aren't nearly as tough as it could be for drunk drivers and Governor Scott Walker says he agrees.

“That's got to change because that's a risk to anyone anywhere across the state of Wisconsin and my hope is even though they didn't do it in this session, that we can get some changes and improvements in futures session,” said Walker.

Walker said the legislature did pass some legislation in this session.

Both houses in the state legislature passed a bill unanimously that would require drunk drivers who injured someone to spend at least 30 days in jail. And if you’re a 7th, 8th or 9th offender, there’s a three year prison sentence. The measure goes to the governor.

Owen says when she heard the news of the three children hurt in an OWI crash Sunday night, she immediately thought of her son.

“The biggest thing with the drunk driving and multiple offenders is the effects aren't from just that day of that accident. They go on for years and years, it still has an effect on my son’s life eight years later and it’s affected his life in a very big way,” said Owen. “What is it going to take, how many people have to be killed, how many people have to be injured for something to be done about the laws?”

Democratic Rep. Jon Richards of Milwaukee also unveiled a legislation that would make first-offense OWI a misdemeanor. That likely won't be discussed until the next session.

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