Who's accountable for DUI drivers slipping through the cracks?
Contact 13 Investigates why repeat DUI offenders are still on the streets.Photo: Video by ktnv.com
Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Drunk drivers are some of the deadliest criminals out there.
Over the past year, Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears has been examining case after case to find out why DUI drivers are often turned back out onto the streets to re-offend, slipping through the cracks of the system.
According to Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Rutledge, "If you're worried about someone killing you, it's probably going to be a drunk driver."
Robin Wynkoop knows that all too well. Every day, she relives the moment when a police officer showed up at her work with devastating news.
"I walked out to his car and he pulled out my mom's purse and I just lost it. I could see it when he put it into his hands. I could smell the perfume from it."
Robin's mother, Patricia Hoff, was killed in 2008 by Steven Murray. Under the influence of multiple prescription drugs, Murray crashed his truck into a Boulder Highway bus stop where Hoff was sitting.
Robin tells her family's story to convicted drunk drivers at STOP DUI's victim impact panels.
"At one of the panels I was at, a guy raised his hand and said I've had five priors. I've been in this panel five times. How did that happen?"
Multiple DUI arrests before any significant punishment or treatment is commonplace in our system, according to Rutledge.
"I have one case that I'm prosecuting now that is set for trial in September where it's the defendant's sixth felony DUI."
Backlogged blood evidence at Metro's lab, court system delays and judges giving soft sentences all contribute to what Rutledge calls the system's revolving door.
And even when DUI drivers do get to prison, even more problems can crop up.
"This was an interesting case," Rutledge says, paging through the records of Dwight Day.
After committing three felony DUIs in seven years, Day was let out of custody only to do it again.
"Committed another felony DUI, eventually we were able to get him to plead guilty and he was sentenced to prison."
In January, he reported to prison but was released the same day -- not paroled, just discharged back into the community without any supervision.
Brian: The prison just released him.
Brian: I have no idea. When we asked them, they couldn't tell us why.
The Department of Corrections wouldn't tell us why either.
In fact, they refused to go on camera, saying their director is too busy at the Legislature.
They say Dwight Day is now back in custody and his release is under investigation.
Then there's the case of Robert Orozco.
His two felony DUI convictions together got him an 8- to 20-year sentence.
But he spent only about 12 months in prison.
"Now how someone with an 8- to 20-year sentence can be released to a halfway house after one year, I have no idea, and the prison couldn't explain their rationale on that either," says Rutledge.
Darcy: What does that tell the general public?
Brian: That certainly the prison system doesn't take the DUI's seriously. They're looking to release these people as quickly as possible.
It's like a sucker punch to people like Robin.
"You don't want to slip it under the rug. You want the full sentence for them."
Part of the system that is working is Judge Linda Bell's serious offender program.
"I have 350 people in my felony DUI court at all times."
Her 3- to 5-year program is one of intensive supervision and treatment.
It's the last chance to avoid prison for people who can't stay out of trouble. But even then, some still fail.
In the single court session we attended, a brother/sister team was locked up for tampering with a car's breath interlock device and blaming it on a mechanic.
And three others were cuffed and carted off to prison for failing drug or alcohol tests.
The serious offender program has a zero tolerance policy. You test positive, you go to jail.
"Alcohol is just the symptom of what's going wrong. We need to find out why that's happening and sometimes the courts just aren't able to do those things," says DUI defense attorney Chip Siegel.
He believes our state could be doing more to stop DUIs.
"Nevada is not like most states. If you take a look, most states have this Dram Shop law."
Nevada is one of only seven states with no dram shop and social host liability laws.
Dram shop laws hold establishments accountable if they sell alcohol to obviously intoxicated people or minors who kill or injure someone in a DUI crash.
"If you want to cut down potentially on the amount of cases and the amount of deaths, I'll be impressed when that happens," says Siegel.
Eight-time DUI offender Matthew John Silva goes to trial in august. He was three times the legal limit when he smashed into a parked car trying to leave the bar where he'd been drinking.
Court records show he tried to flee the scene but was so drunk, he passed out behind the wheel with his foot revving the gas and the truck aimed directly at the bar.
Lucky for everyone, the truck was no longer in gear.
"If we have another player on the team, that player being the bar or the casino or the restaurant or the homeowner who says no, because if you drink too much, then we're gonna be sued -- then I'll start showing you a state that's pretty serious about tackling the problem," says Siegel.
He would also like to see our laws include the option of breath interlock devices instead of automatic license revocation.
"Lose your license for 90 days or you can install a breath interlock device for the next six months. You can lose your license for a year, or can put a breath interlock device on for the next two years and drive legally. Again, you just have to be realistic. What are people going to do? They're going to drive anyway. Because then you're going to have some control over the person when they're driving because they have a breath interlock device as opposed to sweeping it under the rug."
Something else that could be coming? Trans-dermal steering wheels that could detect alcohol through your hands and keep your car from starting. It's technology that's a long way off, but could one day be another weapon to fight the never-ending problem of drinking and driving.