Judge says long prison terms are appropriate for repeat drunk drivers

Judge says long prison terms are appropriate for repeat drunk drivers

It is nearly impossible to keep repeat drunk drivers off the road. All kinds of tactics have been tried, and most fail.

Examples include Jerry Owca, who has ten DUIs. He killed three people on Brookpark Road in 1984, yet spent only about a year in jail. He now faces a new DUI case and again has been charged with only a misdemeanor.

Another example is John Stolarski. Immediately after having his license suspended in court, he prepared to drive his car until we confronted him. We went to his home a couple of weeks later and within ten minutes, we saw him driving again. After that he went to jail.

But is jail or prison the answer?

Parma Judge Timothy Gilligan thinks long prison terms are the answer for repeat drunk drivers. Treatment is not, he says, "I have seen where they quit for a period and then something triggers it, something happens. A death in the family, a divorce."

Another example is James Cline. Prison is working to keep him from driving. The Geauga County man killed two Hiram College students and seriously injured another while driving drunk. He was sentenced to 38 years, but remember, it was his 12th DUI.

Had Cline been locked up earlier his victims might still be alive.

"The legislative focus is very much on first time offenders and I think that's kind of a missed direction of the focus. I really think the focus should be on the multiple offenders," says Judge Gilligan.

There are exceptions. Some people do quit drinking and driving. Todd Manley had 18 convictions and 32 suspensions. He finally spent six and a half years in prison.  He has had no DUIs since. Judge Gilligan calls that "highly unusual."
Then there are the enablers. James Cline's girlfriend Karen Hensley was sent to prison for allowing Cline to drive her car.  But it is rare for an
enabler to be punished, according to Gilligan.

"They are charged. I've seen it. Most of those instances they come in and say 'look I didn't have a choice, he took my car. He didn't ask me, he took it.' So they generally have a pretty good defense," says Gilligan.

Remember, prosecutors are simply following the law in charging people with six or fewer DUIs in 20 years, or fewer than four in three years with misdemeanors.

Any change would have to come from Columbus.

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