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Senate Panel Begins Study of Tougher DWI Laws

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RALEIGH (AP) — Habitual drunken drivers needto forfeit theweapon they use against other people - their cars, supporters oftougher penalties told a Senate committee Tuesday.

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

Also testifying was Janet Carteledge whose 7-year-old daughter Bethany waskilled by a drunk driver in 1994. She said it's obvious something needs tobe 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, vehiclesdriven by habitual drunken drivers who have had their drivinglicense revoked could be seized, no matter who owns them. To gettheir car back, a friend or family member would have to prove theydid not know the driver had no license.

The measure also calls for mandatory prison sentences forhabitual drunken drivers and mandatory treatment for alcohol ordrug abuse while they are imprisoned.

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

``Surely to goodness, if we can seize cars that are used inorganized drag races, we can seize cars driven by habitual drunkendrivers,'' he said.

Sen. Fountain Odom, D-Mecklenburg, said the bill needs ``a goodbit of additional work'' before it is ready for a committee vote.Senators questioned how the measure would affect banks or otherfinancial institutions that hold liens on seized vehicles, andwhether family members would be unfairly penalized by losing theircars.

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

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

``What happens if somebody is innocent?'' Rand asked. ``Whopaysto 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 sharingthe highway with an habitual drunken driver.

A separate measure being considered in the state House wouldusepublic humiliation as a form of punishment for drunken drivers. Thebill, sponsored by Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, would requireDWI offenders who receive limited driving privileges to display asticker in their car window saying. ``Convicted of Driving WhileImpaired.''

From staff and wire stories.

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