A DRIVE SHE WON’T SOON FORGET
by David Sisler
The leading cause of death for children from two to 14 years of age is motor vehicle crashes. Last year, 22 percent of the children under 15 years old who were killed in motor vehicle accidents died in alcohol-related wrecks. More than half of those dead children were passengers in vehicles with drivers who had been drinking.
Jennifer Dawn Langston may not have read those statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). If she did read them, they made no impact on her. Her pickup truck, however, made a deadly impression on a family from Jefferson, PA.
Langston was charged with homicide by vehicle while driving drunk. Langston and her booze-propelled truck killed Glenn Clark and injured his wife, Annette, so severely that she is now in what doctors believe is an irreversible coma. Annette was pregnant at the time her life was destroyed, but doctors delivered her son by caesarean section. Michael Anthony – effectively an orphan – is now 10 months old.
As reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Butler County Judge George Hancher, in a first-of-its-kind sentencing, handed out punishment which is calculated to force Langston to constantly remember the family she destroyed.
Her sentencing in a moment, but first an unnecessary reminder that Jennifer Langston is not alone in her totally preventable murder and mayhem.
According to the National Hardcore Drunk Driver Project Survey (NHDDPS), half of first-time offenders become second-time offenders and 80 percent of the second-time offenders become multiple offenders.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reports that “last year in this country, there were two alcohol-related traffic deaths per hour, 45 per day and 315 per week.” We are so desensitized that we easily ignore those deaths, but that is the equivalent of two passenger airliner crashes weekly – with no survivors.
Repeat drunk driving offenders are among the most stubborn, persistent, and deadly threats on U.S. roads. They continue to commit the violent crime of drunk driving despite punishment and efforts to rehabilitate them. NHTSA cites that over 80 percent of DUI offenders whose licenses are suspended continue to drive, so suspending their licenses is obviously not the solution.
Let’s start with mandatory jail time. According to NHDDPS only 13 states have mandatory terms of imprisonment for first-time drunk drivers, while 47 states impose mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders. If you are convicted of drunk driving you should go to jail. Period. And make it a federal law with no sentencing options.
“Too harsh,” some will whine. Face up to it – DUI is totally voluntary. Every single case of injury and death caused at the hands of a drunken driver is 100 percent preventable. You have a choice whether or not to drink and drive. Therefore the law should take the opposite course – no choice – you go to jail.
As an added penalty, the driver’s car should be impounded, after he or she is released from prison, for an amount of time equal to the sentence just served. Try drinking and driving with no wheels. Just as there is a national sex offenders data base, create one for DUI convicts so that if they attempt to buy or rent motor vehicles while theirs are impounded, they will not be able to obtain their weapons of choice.
“But I have to get to work!” You should have thought of that before you dropped your inebriated carcass into the driver’s seat.
To those who complain about the cost of putting someone in jail, that is not the only cost of DUI. Alcohol-related crashes in the United States cost the public an estimated $114.3 billion in 2000, including $51.1 billion in monetary costs [medical expenses, coroner costs, burial charges, work lost, public service expenses, and property damage] and an estimated $63.2 billion in quality of life losses [pain and suffering to the victim and his survivors]. MADD says, “People other than the drinking driver paid $71.6 billion of the alcohol-related crash bill, which is 63 percent of the total cost of crashes.”
Those costs will not be recovered, the maimed will still be scarred, disfigured and crippled, and the dead will still be dead, but a drunk driver who is behind bars will not be driving.
At some point the repeat offender should be determined to be beyond redemption and the key thrown away because we are just dealing with the times the offender was caught. MADD states, “It’s estimated that DUI offenders drove drunk 200 to 2,000 times before they were arrested the first time.”
Folks, this is voluntary behavior. If you drink and drive you are breaking the law. If you drink and drive and survive, the law should break you. You should not get the chance to use your car as a potentially lethal weapon aimed at the rest of us.
But let’s return to Jennifer Dawn Langston’s sentencing by Judge George Hancher.
Because of Pennsylvania’s statutes, and because a breathalyzer test was not rendered immediately, the most that Langston could be sentenced to was 30 days in jail and five years probation. But the terms of her probation, according to reporter Karen Kane, will carry some severity.
Next June, on the anniversary Glenn Clark’s death Langston must personally purchase and deliver flowers to his grave and to the accident site and repeat the delivery every year of her probation.
Additionally, Langston must provide a $50 a-month-stipend to the son, who is being raised by his aunt. She must carry a photograph of Glenn and Annette Clark in her wallet at all times.
Kane writes, “She will be required to spend eight hours each month either working with trauma victims or speaking to community groups about the dangers of irresponsible and drunken driving. She will be barred from taverns and clubs serving alcohol, and she must send letters of apology to Clark’s families and to the staff, students and administrators of Mars Area High School, where Mr. Clark was a much-admired wrestling coach and physical education teacher.”
I have one more suggestion for the sentence. Tattoo the Clarks’ names on the backs of Jennifer Langston’s hands. That way she will be forced to remember her victims the next time she reaches for a beer can and her truck keys.
Copyright 2003 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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