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DUI drivers slipping through the cracks

DUI drivers slipping through the cracks

By Darcy Spears. CREATED May 21, 2013

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- DUI drivers back behind the wheel only to re-offend again and again before any punishment or treatment occurs.

It's the story neither Las Vegas police nor our state prison system wants to talk about.

Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears examines how these drivers slip through the cracks of our justice system.

"He shouldn't have been driving.  I think of him as garbage, something that should have been taken out a long time ago," said Porsche Hughes in August 2008.

Steven Murray's decision to drive under the influence was the end of life as she knew it for Porsche Hughes.

And the end of life for Robin Wynkoop's mother.

"I relive it every day.  It doesn't go away," says Robin.

On July 7, 2008, Murray, who was high on a bunch of different prescription drugs, plowed into a bus stop on Boulder Highway.

The crash caused Hughes to lose both her legs and killed Patricia Hoff.

"The truck pushed my mom up against the wall," Robin recalls.  "And the impact flew her out of her shoes and flew the wall up in the air.  My mom hit the ground, the wall hit on top of her."

Steven Murray had four previous DUI convictions in Texas.

"And one of them was hitting another person," says Robin.  "He hit a man on a bicycle and he got sentenced to jail for a year and he got out before the year was up."

Only to come here to Nevada and take her mother's life.

"And tell me it wasn't his fault," says Robin.

Robin thinks the Texas judicial system is partially to blame.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Rutledge says the same thing happens here in Nevada.

"It's discouraging, but more importantly, we worry about the community and the community's safety."

Contact 13 examined case after case where habitual offenders are turned back out onto the streets.

"There's really two problems we have with DUI drivers slipping through the cracks," says Rutledge.

He says a backlog at Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department's forensic lab is one of them. 

Before a case can be filed, the district attorney needs to know what the blood evidence shows in terms of alcohol or drug levels.

"Depending on what they're under the influence of, it could take eight months or more for the lab to get the blood back."

So in cases where the person has severe addiction problems, "They're racking up multiple additional DUI's before we even get the lab work back on the first DUI," says Rutledge.

Meet Vinson White II and Billy Ray King.

White had three misdemeanor DUI convictions from Minnesota, so his first DUI in Nevada was a felony.

Rutledge shakes his head in wonder at the number of arrests White racked up in one year.

"He picked up four DUIs in a three-month period."

Billy Ray King moved to Nevada with a significant DUI history from California and committed three felony DUI's in a two-month period.

Brian: In each case he gets arrested, they get the blood sample, the sample goes off to get tested, and he is released from custody and he keeps committing new offenses.
Darcy: These people seem to be obvious menace-to-society-type folks and they just keep getting turned out to the streets.
Brian: Yes.

Rutledge says LVMPD's lab can't keep up with the amount of DUI cases in the valley.

"The lab doesn't have sufficient personnel and they don't have enough resources to get these blood results done in a timely fashion and it impacts the safety of the community."

"Every arrest does not mean that somebody's going to be charged," cautions DUI defense attorney Chip Siegel.

"The question that you have to ask yourself is do you want Metro prioritizing misdemeanor DUIs or do you want them working on DNA cases?"

We wanted to ask LVMPD about the backlog, but they refused to answer our questions on camera.

They dispute the D.A.'s claims, saying there's an average 30- to 45-day turnaround on lab work. 

If they had more staff, they say maybe they could reduce that.

The second delay, according to the D.A.'s office, happens at the court level.

Rutledge says it can take up to two years to resolve a single misdemeanor DUI case.

Vinson White's journey through the justice system began in February 2012 and wasn't resolved until April 2013 when he plead guilty and entered the court's serious offender treatment program.

But it's not just delays. It's also the judges.

"A lot of judges seem to feel someone who commits multiple DUI's--since they haven't killed anyone yet -- they should not get a very stiff sentence," says Rutledge.

In December 2011, Marc McCurdy was found guilty at trial of felony DUI in front of Judge Ken Cory.

He had 14 misdemeanor DUI convictions, four prior felony DUI convictions and 11 other felony convictions including assault with a deadly weapon, bank robbery and leaving the scene of an accident with injuries.

Over the D.A.'s strong objections, Judge Cory gave McCurdy the lightest possible sentence on the low end and ran it concurrent to a longer sentence for another felony DUI.

Rutledge that means, "he won't actually serve one additional day for the fifth DUI."

A crime he'd committed only 10 days after a previous DUI, while out on bond.

"We haven't had that much luck in convincing our judges that these are the type of criminals who should get a habitual criminal sentence and taken off the streets for maybe 10 years rather than just two," says Rutledge.

"And until this happens to one of these judges that feels it's OK to just let it go, they're not gonna feel our pain," adds Robin Wynkoop.

We called Judge Cory to find out what his reasoning was, but he said the case is on appeal so he can't discuss it. 

And we found problems that go beyond the courtroom. 

Why won't the prison system answer our questions and what is our state failing to do when it comes to accountability for DUIs? 

Our special report continues Wednesday on Action News Live @ 6:00.

Darcy Spears

Darcy Spears

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Darcy Spears is currently the Chief Investigative Reporter for Action News.