Why are repeat drunk drivers so lightly sentenced? - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Why are repeat drunk drivers so lightly sentenced?

Owca served about a year for killing three people. (Source: WOIO) Owca served about a year for killing three people. (Source: WOIO)

Imagine driving drunk, killing people and still being allowed behind the wheel. We found a loophole in the law that allows repeat offenders to get away with it.

James Cline is one of Ohio's worst drunk drivers. His 12th DUI resulted in the deaths of three Hiram College students in 2006. It also resulted in him being sentenced to 38 years in prison.

Cline is not alone in driving drunk, getting busted, released, and driving drunk again.

Todd Manley of Hudson has 18 convictions and 32 suspensions.

In Cuyahoga County more than 12,000 drivers have more than three convictions, followed by Summit, Stark, Lorain and Lake counties, all with several thousand.Then there is Jerry Owca, currently facing his 10th DUI after another driver on West 130th called 911 on him.

"I been watching him the last few miles, he almost sideswiped a few people," said the caller.

Owca had a similar case in 1984. He drove over the center line of Brookpark Road and slammed into another car killing three people. Sandra Sue Robertson, Thomas Robertson (no relation) and Dawn Miciak.

"There's been accidents that claimed lives in the past. Yes, 30 years ago. 30 years ago there was, there was the accident yeah. I live with it every day," said Owca.

Sandra Sue Robertson's daughter Meg also lives with it every day.

"I have a mixed emotion of extreme anger and hurt. It feels like my mother's life didn't matter," said Meg.

For killing three people, Owca served just over a year in county jail. Despite a 1985 order suspending his license for life, Owca got out of jail, got another license and has been arrested for DUI and assorted crimes repeatedly since.

Some of the charges, like "weaving" hint that Owca may have been impaired, but was cut a break.

"I don't understand how you can look at someone who has committed so many crimes and has taken the lives of three people and continue to cut them slack. He obviously doesn't get it," said Meg.

"At 50 years old, this is what you contribute to society. Who needs that?" asked Dawn Miciak's brother Kevin, "Every time he drinks, gets drunk, gets high and has the keys to his car in his pocket, that's intentional."

One of the reasons people like Jerry Owca are treated lightly is a flaw in Ohio law, known as the "lookback period."

Drunk driving is only a misdemeanor if you have fewer than six convictions in the last 20 years, and Owca fits into that category, frustrating prosecutors.

So for his most recent case the worst he's looking at is 18 months in a local jail, not prison.

"I don't understand, when someone is killed because of your actions there can't be a statute of limitations on that," said Kevin.

While Jerry Owca faces light punishment if convicted in his latest DUI case, police also found heroin in his car. That case is being prosecuted separately by the county, and he could face prison time.

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