The man who killed Oconomowoc High School assistant principal Jennifer Bukowsky, her unborn child and 10-year-old daughter had a string of drunk driving arrests, and no valid license or insurance.
Jennifer Bukowsky’s mother Judy Jenkins was present on Monday as Governor Scott Walker signed legislation which makes the fourth drunk driving offense a felony regardless of when it was committed, and increases penalties for repeat drunk drivers. The signing ceremony took place eight years to the day after the fatal crash.
Under current state law, a fourth drunk driving offense is a felony only if it’s committed within five years of a third.
Walker said Jenkins’ was just “one of the many families that has been victimized by drunk driving in the state of Wisconsin.” Even by Wisconsin standards, where fatalities at the hands of repeat drunk driving offenders are a too common occurrence, the death of Bukowsky and her children shocked the state.
Mark Benson was a 55-year-old orthopedic surgeon whose career was on the skids, when his Cadillac SUV rear-ended Bukowsky’s vehicle just two days after Benson’s third drunk driving conviction. Police said Benson was under the influence of prescription medications and was headed to the pharmacy for more drugs.
The 2008 crash triggered a statewide debate over toughening Wisconsin’s drunk driving laws, with then-Governor Jim Doyle in favor of making a third drunk driving offense a felony, with immediate prison time upon sentencing.
The bill signed by Walker on Monday increases the maximum prison sentence for fifth and sixth offenses, from three years to five. Maximum sentences for seventh, eighth and ninth offenses increase from five years to seven and a half. The maximum sentence for a 10th or subsequent offense will rise from seven and a half years to ten. The legislation was authored by Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Representative Al Ott (R-Mequon).
“Penalties in Wisconsin for repeat drunk drivers are less severe than neighboring states,” Governor Walker said. “It is time to match the severity of our penalties to this crime, regardless of when it occurs.”
Wisconsin remains the only state in the nation where a first drunk driving offense is a misdemeanor.