Bills to toughen the penalties for driving drunk in Wisconsin received a public hearing at the Capitol on Thursday. The three measures, from Representative Jim Ott, set a minimum five year sentence for drunk driving homicides, raise minimum incarceration for fifth and sixth offenses from six months to 18 months, and prohibit all offenders from driving any vehicle without an ignition interlock.
“To be honest, I think five years (for a drunk driving homicide) is not a strong enough penalty for homicide OWI,” the Mequon Republican said, noting that some judges do impose that prison term. “But I have heard enough instances in which the sentence may be as little as one or two years for killing someone. I think this is an outrage.”
Elizabeth Thorne of Iola lost her 18-year-old son, Dylan Thorne, to a drunk driver with no prior record. The woman ended up serving just a year in jail. “Is it socially acceptable to drink and drive, and kill somebody? I don’t think so. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first time or your fifth time.”
The issue of how much it costs to have an ignition interlock device was raised, by Representative Evan Goyke, a Milwaukee Democrat. “I don’t care how much money you have, because if you happen to be the one that crosses the line and kills someone, what difference does it make . . . if you could afford the interlock? It doesn’t matter. You killed someone,” Ott said.
Paula Patoka’s husband Roger was killed by a drunk driver who had served time in prison for his fourth offense. “Three months later, he killed my husband. He was in a vehicle that was purchased for him by a family member. He took old license plates, and put them on there. It wasn’t registered. He was uninsured.”
Paula and her kids were following her husband on his motorcycle and were also injured when the drunk driver slammed into them in Shawano County in 2015. The drunk driver was also killed.
Marla Hall’s son was one of four people killed in a Dane County crash last November. “My child was murdered by a drunken driver with numerous offenses,” Hall said. Clenton Hall, Katy Pasqualini, Kimberly Ratke and Patrick Wasielewski were all killed when Brysen Wills struck two vehicles while driving the wrong way on the interstate near Deerfield. Wills had two previous drunk driving convictions from another state.
The bills received a hearing before the Assembly Criminal Justice Committee, which is expected to vote on them next month.