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60 Year Sentence!

An Editorial

Could it be that society is finally getting fed up with drunk drivers?

The 60-year sentence handed down this week in a North Carolina DUI trial in which a 30-year-old repeat DUI offender was found guilty of killing four New Jersey teens after downing five drinks for "lunch," would seem to indicate that the courts are finally getting the message that the only way to guarantee that habitual drunk drivers stay off the road is to put them away.

The North Carolina case drew national attention due to its television coverage, but it is a all too familiar story repeated day after day on the highways and in the courts -- someone is killed because a drunk driver did not get the message the first time, or in this case even the second time.

How Long Will This Go On?

Each week here at the Alcoholism site on our Alcohol and Drugs in the News page, we time and again report cases in which repeat DUI offenders are found guilty of another senseless slaughter, but are given what seems to be "light" sentences, considering they have taken a life -- sometimes a little as a few months in jail.

Many times the judges in those cases hands are tied by state laws which dictate the maximum sentences for vehicular homicide. For some reason, legislators consider getting drunk, getting behind the wheel and killing an innocent victim less of a crime than getting drunk and killing someone in a bar room brawl.

Somehow those who make our laws still look upon the carnage caused by drunk drivers as "tragic accidents" rather than what they really are -- the blatant disregard of the safety of anyone who happens to get in the way by someone who drinks and makes the decision to get behind the wheel of a vehicle.

To quote comedian Richard Pryor, how long will this bulls*** go on?

Asked About Her Dog

Perhaps the North Carolina trial of Melissa Lynn Marvin will send a message to the courts and lawmakers alike, that society is fed up with a system that allows repeat offenders to continue to renew their driving privileges. The case provides us with a glimpse at the attitude of many repeat offenders.

Twice arrested for drunk driving offenses, the 30-year-old waitress downed three shots of booze at one bar and two margarita "grandes" at another, got in her SUV, sped through traffic changing lanes frequently with her left foot up on the dashboard, ran a red light and plowed into a small car carrying five teen-agers, killing four of them.

In the aftermath of the collision, described as sounding like an explosion, Marvin at the scene asked repeatedly about the condition of her dog who was riding in the vehicle with her and never once inquired about the victims in the other car.

An "experienced" DUI offender, Marvin at the hospital tried to cover up the amount of alcohol that she had consumed and refused to provide a urine sample, instead pulling up her dress and urinating on the emergency room stretcher. A court-ordered blood test two hours after the accident indicated a blood alcohol content of .21, putting it at an estimated .28 at the time of the crash.

Not the Only One to Blame

Marvin's defense at her trial was basically that she had not had "that much" to drink, which from her point of view was probably true. She probably had drunk a lot more than that many times before and driven home, given her driving record over the past nine years.

In her eyes having "only" five drinks and driving was not "that much." She couldn't possibly be drunk! The blood test must be wrong!

Apparently it was not difficult for the jury and the judge in the Marvin case to feel no sympathy for 30-year-old "amateur surfer" while finding her guilty of causing the deaths of those four innocent teens, but the truth is she does not bare the blame alone.

A Little Too Late

Twice previously she was arrested for drunk driving and the courts allowed her to plead to "lesser charges" and by doing so enabled her to escape facing the full consequences of her actions. So the state of North Carolina is also partially to blame for those tragic deaths.

As long as we continue to have minimal punishment for first offenders and allow them to plead guilty to lesser charges, they will continue to drink and drive because in their minds they "got away with it." The line needs to be drawn after the first offense, not after the first death.

It's good to see that North Carolina is finally beginning to take responsibility for maintaining the safety of its highways by putting Melissa Marvin behind bars for 60 years, but it's a bit too late for Amanda Geiger, Angela McGrady, Megan Blong, and Shana Lawler.

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