Local News

Senate Panel Begins Study of Tougher DWI Laws

Posted April 1, 1997

— Habitual drunken drivers need to forfeit the weapon they use against other people - their cars, supporters of tougher penalties told a Senate committee Tuesday.

Sherry Dail, whose 4-year-old daughter was killed several weeks ago by an habitual drunken driver, said the man who crashed into their car was a killer.

Also testifying was Janet Carteledge whose 7-year-old daughter Bethany was killed by a drunk driver in 1994. She said it's obvious something needs to be done.

Timothy Earl Blackwell, 36, a chronic drunken driver, was charged with second-degree murder in the crash.

Under a bill being considered by the Senate committee, vehicles driven by habitual drunken drivers who have had their driving license revoked could be seized, no matter who owns them. To get their car back, a friend or family member would have to prove they did not know the driver had no license.

The measure also calls for mandatory prison sentences for habitual drunken drivers and mandatory treatment for alcohol or drug abuse while they are imprisoned.

Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker, in an unusual appearance before a committee, said state law now allows vehicles to be seized if they are used in organized drag races.

``Surely to goodness, if we can seize cars that are used in organized drag races, we can seize cars driven by habitual drunken drivers,'' he said.

Sen. Fountain Odom, D-Mecklenburg, said the bill needs ``a good bit of additional work'' before it is ready for a committee vote. Senators questioned how the measure would affect banks or other financial institutions that hold liens on seized vehicles, and whether family members would be unfairly penalized by losing their cars.

``Even as we try to solve a problem, we need to be aware of the rights of our citizens,'' said Sen. Frank Ballance, D-Warren.

Sen. Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, said anyone whose car is seized would have to pay towing and storing charges to get it back.

``What happens if somebody is innocent?'' Rand asked. ``Who pays to get the vehicle back?''

``As the bill is written now, the innocent party would pay,'' Odom responded.

But Odom agreed the biggest problem is innocent people sharing the highway with an habitual drunken driver.

A separate measure being considered in the state House would use public humiliation as a form of punishment for drunken drivers. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, would require DWI offenders who receive limited driving privileges to display a sticker in their car window saying. ``Convicted of Driving While Impaired.''

From staff and wire stories.

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