Convicted drunk drivers show up to victim panels impaired
CONTACT 13 INVESTIGATES: DUI victim panelsPhoto: Video by ktnv.com
Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- It's the last place anyone should be showing up drunk.
A place where victims pour out their hearts and drunk drivers are supposed to learn a lesson.
But as Chief Investigator Darcy Spears uncovered, for many offenders, this is one lesson not learned.
Joan Eddowes heard the words no parent ever wants to hear.
"The doctors did everything they could to try to save your son. There wasn't anything they could do. He's gone."
Her son Mark Simon was riding his bike home from work when he was hit and killed by a drunk driver.
"This kid was only 17 years old. I was ready to watch him graduate from high school."
Too many stories like Joan's are told at Stop DUI's victim impact panels.
The images we show on the news are nothing compared to the horrific pictures displayed for those audiences.
An average of 400 people per month attend the panels because they've been convicted of driving under the influence, and the panel is part of their court-mandated sentence.
Working with law enforcement and Stop DUI, Contact 13 went undercover for two months to panels in Las Vegas and Henderson.
Each and every time, people showed up under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
"Man, what's this all about?" asked a guy being given a Breathalyzer test after officers suspected he'd been drinking. "It can't be on TV. That ain't cool."
Officers thought the guy was drunk, but the Breathalyzer said otherwise so he was allowed inside.
But others often are not.
Our hidden camera watched as a man got kicked out of the Henderson panel. And we were there when he tried again in Las Vegas.
Darcy: How do you think you should show up to these panels? I mean, this is part of a court sentence.
Guy: Sober. As sober as you are.
He made it in that time.
As did another guy, even though Metro suspected he was high on marijuana.
Officer Dave Sims, Metro's drug recognition expert, gave the guy a sobriety test and asked him some questions: "Look right here," Sims directs the man. "If you start looking around, that means you're coming up with a story in your head. Not a hard question. When was the last time?"
"I can't recall not seeing somebody show up here that hadn't been drinking or under the influence of something," says Tim Babcock, who retired from Metro's fatal detail and is now Stop DUI's president.
"I've had people come here and say well, you know, I can't make it through this without a drink. Really?!"
Babcock says it's not just booze.
We were there when Officer Sims found a vial of Spice--synthetic marijuana--that someone had tried to ditch under the check-in table.
Metro and NHP staff the panels looking for people who appear intoxicated.
The number on the Breathalyzer for one man keeps going up, well past the .08 legal limit.
"You're legally intoxicated at this point and you're coming to this panel. Intoxicated! Probably not a smart thing to do," Trooper Castillo says to the man.
We tried to talk to him as troopers prepared to kick him out.
Darcy: Why? Why'd you drink before coming here?
Guy: I forgot that I had the class today.
Darcy: You forgot that you were coming to a Victim Impact Panel? What would you say to the victims?
Guy: I'm asking you to stop.
Others were more willing to take responsibility for their actions.
Darcy: I can smell the alcohol on your breath from here and you almost blew the legal limit. What does that say to the people who lost loved ones and the sentence the court gave you?
Woman: Well, on that note, um, hard-head makes--I don't want to say what that say--but, I wasn't trying to intentionally... nothing like that. I know people that have died in situations like that and everything too and I just truly apologize.
Like the others, she gambled the $75 cost of her panel ticket that she wouldn't get caught.
"I was wrong. I was truly wrong. And I lost my money today and everything, and hopefully--I gotta come up with it again, I will be--and I'm just blessed that I didn't go to jail today."
At the end of the panel, we look for repeat offenders.
Darcy on stage: Can I see a show of hands, who's the second time here?
A number of hands go up.
There were even a few third timers, and one of them agreed to talk with us.
Darcy: What part of this do you not get?
Woman: I get it now. I just recently had a child, so I actually get it now.
We asked her why she keeps drinking and driving.
"Peer pressure is a big thing in Vegas. So, I was peer-pressured."
Darcy: You don't take responsibility for your own actions?
Woman: I do. I do.
Darcy: How many chances do you think you should get?
Woman: I shoulda got one.
Others in the audience weren't as forthcoming.
One woman seemed more concerned about hiding from our camera than what the victims were saying.
Darcy: For the lady up there who keeps trying to hide her face from me, are you embarrassed because of what you did or because you got caught? You have no answer?
Tim Babcock has no answer for the disrespect and disregard he sees at every panel, every time.
"We have these victims down there pouring their heart out, going over that story again about how they lost somebody, and you show up here intoxicated, I mean, that's the biggest offense that you can do."
The people who get kicked out of the panels don't get arrested, unless they try to drive themselves away, which Metro says happens more often that you'd think.