Wisconsin, we have a problem.

I haven’t written about the tragic drunken driving deaths in Oconomowoc because I’m a wimp. I don’t want to admit that three lives were taken because a three time offender without a valid driver’s license was behind the wheel drunk again. It was Silent E who shocked me into reality. He excerpted this quote from the MJS:

Jennifer Bukosky’s husband, Michael Bukosky, said on Sunday that the tragedy took not two but three lives from his new family: his wife, Courtney and Sophia, who was due to be born June 3 but died as a result of her mother’s injuries.

“I met her for the first time today. She has her mother’s lips and my nose and a head of blond hair,” Bukosky said while struggling not to weep.

To recognize Sophie’s life at the visitation, the tiny baby will have her own casket. Mother and daughter will then be buried together, Bukosky said.

It’s unbelievably heartbreaking to witness this kind of pain.

These deaths come on the heels of another story that Wisconsin is the worst self-admitted drunken drivers in the country. MADD agrees. Their 2007 Progress Report calls Wisconsin “Worst in the nation” citing “a weak interlock law, first offenses are not crimes, and no sobriety checkpoints.”

We have lowered the legal limit to 0.08 blood alcohol content. I agree the problem may lie in sentencing. A third-time offender would not be on the road if he were in prison.

Too harsh you say? I’d ask Bukosky. His sentence is much harder, and unlike the drunken driver’s, it’s for life.

Comments

  1. If it takes you three times to figure out not to drive drunk you need to be FINED heavily, have your driver’s license taken away for a very very long time, and forced to do community outreach/service on alcohol-related events.

    I think the problem with prison is that it doesn’t shame people enough. The only people who know you’re there are th other sickos in the cell next door.

  2. Fair Play says:

    No, not too harsh. Drunk drivers are the most selfish and destructive people. To have no regard what-so-ever for the innocent people they could kill instantly because they have no self control…God it drives me insane just thinking about it. How did this become so acceptable in our society? Maybe drunk drivers should be given a special license plate (if they regain their driving privilege) so society can shun them as the attempted murderers that they are…

  3. He did have his license revoked…just two days prior. Yet there he was, behind the wheel.

    The sickest part in my opinion? The offender was a physician. Here is a man who (at least at some point in his life) had the skill and knowledge to help – possibly even save – lives, and he threw it all away for pills and possibly alcohol.

    This is the type of story we should be sharing with our children – to show them the devastating consequences of drugs and alcohol. They don’t relate to the derelicts often portrayed as druggies and alcoholics. They think, “that won’t happen to me…I have my life under control. I’m not some idiot….” They need to see that alcohol, prescription pills and other drugs can turn even the successful, intelligent doctor next-door into a murderer.

  4. Dave Frank says:

    I am with you Cindy, I had to stop reading the story about half way through because it was just too painful. I will tell you this Wisconsin and a handful of other states are pushing to lower the leagl drinking age for service members and I doubt it will stop there.

    http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=328253

    A very bad idea.

  5. Part of the problem is that there are few, if any, penalties for ignoring the law.

    Speeding, DUI, driving under revocation, crashing into a car when you have no insurance….. there are close to zero penalties for these, despite the formidable cost. When I was rear-ended by an uninsured driver, my damages were $29,000. He got off with a ticket for $140.20, and then promptly filed bankruptcy on the advice of his attorney. Guess who got stuck with the $29,000 bill?

    How is it that someone can have their license revoked, yet keep their car? Gee, d’ya think they might get behind the wheel anyway? After all, no one will know they are driving under revocation…….. unless they get caught.

    I have a 14 year old. I’m hard pressed to undestand how he should learn that breaking the rules has consequences, when the adults here don’t seem to understand it. I can do my best to teach him… but what happens when he hits the real world, where there are apparently no penalties?

    Maybe it’s time to move back east………

  6. BrkfldDad says:

    …and Brookfied, WE have a problem.

    Anyone travel North Ave from about Elmbrook Memorial Hospital west to Barker Road on Saturday? Littered with liquor and beer bottles. And I am not talking one or two here or there, it was bad, real bad. And it coincides with BCHS prom. I have no doubt who provided the waste that was almost in a continuous stream on both sides of the road. It’s almost like it was some pre-planned mess. We as parents, need to wake up. We will not and do not let our kids go to parties at ‘known’ party homes, but I had the worst happen just last fall. Called the parents to confirm the party at their house was something they were aware of, and that there’d be no alcohol. They said yes. When my son got there, not only were the a number of kids all ready drinking or drunk, but they parents were drinking with them. We are breeding a generation of Mark Bensons right before our eyes.

  7. I hope you gave those parents a piece of your mind.
    What nerve!

  8. Cheri M. says:

    Kathryn, BD, amy, I agree wholeheartedly!

    But I believe we are outnumbered. As a GS Leader who attempted to enforce GS rules (which prohibit alcohol on GS property) when other coleaders and designated medical mom began drinking on an overnight camping trip, I can attest that those parents who shun the rules outnumber those of us with the common sense not to drink while entrusted with the care of other families’ children. Some leaders told me that being discreet, such as drinking white wine from apple juice bottles, made it OK. The extent to which several people went to attempt to discredit me for taking a stand and socially ostracize my daughter are incredible. I will brace myself for more aftershocks from having shared these few sentences here.

    I take heart that there are a least a few parents out there who set high standards, follow the rules, and expect their children and other adults to do the same.

  9. Yes, and I have stories about Poms Moms who come to competitions plastered. I was warned not to make waves. In fact, I wanted to jump up and down and scream until someone agreed with me that they should be tossed out until they sobered up.

  10. Taken from the JS article:

    “Benson once told a judge he did not take the offense of drinking and driving lightly.

    Benson made the comment in a letter to a judge shortly after he had been sentenced to 20 days in jail with work release privileges in June 2003 after pleading no contest to operating while intoxicated.

    “I do not take the offense lightly and have not a lot of use for anyone that drinks and drives. As a father of five teenage children, four of which drive, I would be very upset if they did what I have done,” Benson wrote Judge Patrick Haughney in a letter received by Waukesha Circuit Court on June 6, 2003.

    “Unfortunately as a parent you sometimes teach your children how not to behave by example rather than how to behave,” Benson stated in the letter, which asked the judge to consider electronic monitoring for Benson instead of jail.”

  11. “If it takes you three times to figure out not to drive drunk you need to be FINED heavily, have your driver’s license taken away for a very very long time, and forced to do community outreach/service on alcohol-related events.

    I think the problem with prison is that it doesn’t shame people enough. The only people who know you’re there are th other sickos in the cell next door.”

    I believe those penalties are already in place and are not having much effect. I think prison, as opposed to jail, would be deterrent if we remind the offenders that they will be somebody’s “girlfriend” in the big house!

    I don’t know if it’s still the case but several years ago I read that some countries impose the death penalty for drunken driving…and they have NO problems.

  12. Gato, I think both should be used. Fine them very heavily. Also don’t allow bankruptcy as a result of multiple drunk driving offenses.

  13. BrkfldDad says:

    Cheri M – Amen to that. I did give them a piece of my mind and do everytime I see them! And, I am a Boy Scout leader and back in Cub Scouts our Pack was threatened with a ‘suspension’ of camping privileges when the Dads were caught drinking at a very well publicized no-alcohol outing of ONE night! One freakin’ night and they couldn’t part with their MGD.

    Gato/Shawn – only thing I would add, is that the stiff penalties have to start after the first offense. WI does a poor job, let’s everyone slide from a severe penalty standpoint until the 3-5 offenses range, unless there’s an accident/injury. Much like letting the kids drink, we let the first time offenders slide.

  14. Yep, I said multiple offenders.

  15. I was thinking about this the whole ride home this afternoon… here’s a proposal.

    first offense DUI – lose the license for a period of time, pay a large fine (i’m thinking $10,000 as a start) and serve a period of time in jail.

    second offense DUI – lose the license, lose the car, pay a larger fine and serve a longer period of time in jail.

    third offense (if they’re really that intent on being alcoholic) – three strikes laws takes effect and they go to prison. period. end of problem.

    It makes me so angry when i read newspaper reports of people who are on their fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth offense DUI – at what point do we, as a society, say enough is enough and remove these menaces so that we, and our families, are safe?

  16. I think $10,000 is a little steep for a first offense. In fact, I think it’s very steep. I think having a 2nd chance is a good idea.

    And we don’t have three strikes in WI. Are you suggesting it would be a figurative third strike?

  17. Well, that’s the idea, don’t you think, Shawn?

    I’ll look up what some of the other states and countries do that keeps driving drunk from even crossing a drinkers mind.

  18. Maybe we need a sliding scale based on age or income? 10K would hurt plenty, but it wouldn’t ruin my life. For someone Shawn’s age, it could mean the difference between college or no college.

    As a tangent, why do some alcoholics drive drunk repeatedly, while other alcoholics do not drive drunk at all? Is there any data on that? And how many of our drunk drivers are not alcoholics? I’m guessing quite a few–especially among younger people. I guess I’m wondering where the line is for second chances.

  19. Cheri M. says:

    Bkfld Dad,
    It sounds like BS believed in enforcing their rules. Which is good in this instance, as these are not frivolous matters.

    Cindy,
    Don’tcha rather long for a day in age where society deems the plastered moms to be the ones makin’ waves… not the moms who are trying to be good role models?

  20. BrkfldDad says:

    Ah, but Shawn we do have a three strikes rule in WI, since 1994. It’s called the persistent repeater statute §939.62. Problem is that DUIs are not considered felonies.

  21. Kathryn–in Scandanavian countires, fines for criminal offenses are a percentage of one’s income. So when a CEO gets pulled over for speeding, they can pay thousands of dollars.

    I like that idea. It affects everyone equally.

  22. Only somewhat equally. Depends on how many people they are supporting, among other things.

  23. BrkfldDad says:

    p.s. all, as I forgot to bring this one up, there is a twist here. Mr. Benson is not accused of being drunk and I think in fact the police/DA said he was not drinking. He was, however, high on drugs and in the past lost his medical license for prescribing himself painkillers. You would think that that would have been penalty enough and a wake up call to him – apparently not.

  24. i think that may be taken into account.

  25. BrkfldDad says:

    Interesting reading of the complaint just posted. There’s a page missing (or two) so it doesn’t flow from page 3 to 4. Pretty sad paragraph at the end where he tells his daughter to change her name so she won’t be associated with him.

    http://graphics.jsonline.com/graphics/news/img/apr08/benson-docs-042908.pdf

  26. Winegirl says:

    This is a very difficult problem to solve. The real solution would be increased social pressure and stigmatization not to drink and drive. I know people who have been arrested multiple times for DUI, and who have spent time in jail for that. The people who were really punished were the innocent family members who had to provide rides to and from work release everyday.

    Waukesha County is also running short of funds to run the alcohol related incarceration program. You have no idea how many people are in the slammer on work release–the numbers astound. Everyone who lives in this state would need to be willing to pay more in taxes, and it could be a lot more, to keep all these offenders in jail. How would you feel about a multi-hundred dollar property or income tax increase to build even more prisons?
    And given the recidivism for this type of offense, it seems that prison doesn’t offer much of a deterrent.

    Making the offense a felony is also burdening society with legacy costs, since a felony on one’s record precludes employment in many cases. The released felon cannot find work, what happens next? Society picks up the ongoing tab for social services, welfare costs.

    Confiscation of vehicles is also a problem. First, the vehicle may not belong to the driver, as when a teenager is driving the family car. Do you want to deprive a family of their transportation, thus putting more people on the public assistance roles when they have no transportation to work? I have a problem with that.

    Heavy fines are only good when the person has moneyto pay them. When working for close to minimum wage, as many problem drinkers are, they won’t have a prayer of paying a fine. Then you are punishing the extended family who may try to come up with the money. Or the fine remains unpaid–no deterrence at all.

    Death penalty for impaired drivers? This is coming from a country that does not hold to the standards of behavior of Muslim countries, where one would find a penalty like that? I don’t think we want to go there.

    I feel a culture of drinking that leads to alcohol abuse in many cases is inherent in this state. When I was growing up, everyone, children included, had wine with dinner. That’s how things were in Europe, where my family came from. So the lure of early alcohol as a “forbidden” substance was not so great for us. However, there are always those who don’t know when to say “no thanks.”

    I think the only realistic way to turn this around is to shorten bar hours, close bars earlier, require restaurant and bar owners to actively monitor their patrons consumption (by not selling more than a certain number of drinks or bottles of wine to any given customer,) by jacking up the alcohol prices to pay for some of the increased prison costs and enforcement, by having very strict enforcement, including random road blocks or cops posted outside problem premises. The law should also make hosts in personal residences liable for serving or overserving guests. And there should be more of a social stigma attached to drunken behavior. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen “girls or guys gone wild” when out on the town, especially Downtown and on the east side. Put the fear of God in people when they leave their homes and drink and the problem would be curtailed. However, the restaurant and tavern owners would have a fit and they are a big, powerful lobby here.

  27. All good points, Winegirl…but as someone mentioned earlier, Dr. Benson had not been drinking. He was under the influence of prescription meds.

    It is a very difficult problem to solve, indeed.

  28. So maybe we need to redirect the argument to repeat offenders. Part of the problem is his list of offensives is primarily misdemeanors.

  29. Waukesharesider says:

    The guy was high on pain killers. Where was he getting the pills from is the question.

    There needs to be strict laws that protect the innocent…and the unborn.

    In my book, he murdered 3 innocent people.

    What is our society going to to to make the laws be changed.

    I think that there should be a Jennifer Bukosky law started to get these maniacs off the road once and for all.

    Why should you be allowed to own a vehicle if you don’t have a drivers license, let alone insurance?

    I personally don’t even think that there should be a 3rd, 4th, 5th chance. We need to crack down on these creeps that are making our roads dangerous places.

    My heart goes out to Mike and his family.

  30. I’m still convinced that if you make the penalty harsh enough, the percentage of repeats will go down.

    10,000 too many dollars? Guess you’ll think twice about it the next time.

    Lose the family car because junior was out drunk driving? Maybe you’ll keep closer tabs on what junior is doing.

    I know I sound quite harsh.

    As a former stepmother of a young man who died because he drank and drove, I have a basis for it.

    As the daughter of a man who was slammed, head on, by a drunk driver, I have good basis for it.

    It has to stop. Make the penalties harsh enough, and I believe it will.

    $10,000? Seriously, folks, it’s only money. Live right, don’t break the laws, and you can make more money. As a single mother, 10,000 would impose a crippling financial burden on me. All the more reason to not break the law, don’t you think?

    Waukesharesider, I tend to agree with one of your last points – about not having insurance.

    We impose a financial penalty for not wearing a seat belt. Our school busses don’t have seat belts.

    Motorcycle riders are not mandated to wear a helmet – I guess their right to splatter their grey matter across our highways is more important.

    And you don’t need insurance. Seriously. We have NO LAW that requires even the most basic liability insurance. Been there, got hit by one, got stuck with the bills.

    Something has to change.

  31. Wisconsin is very lax about insurance. It was a completely different story even 15 years ago in Oklahoma. That would be an easy thing to tighten up. Why hasn’t it happened?

  32. BrkfldDad says:

    Why… it’s called the liquor lobby and tavern league.

  33. Someone mentioned being under the influence of drugs, and that was the case with this particular individual. Where did he get the drugs? They were legal prescription drugs. He was also a physician. In in the course of my job, I’ve seen many death and disability claims related to drug use, prescription or otherwise. People in the medical professions have easy access to legal, but mind altering, prescription drugs. So do many others. I just read a piece in Newsweek about all the physician suicides, and the point was “they have access to lethal drugs and know how to use them.” The narcotic pain killers that this country seems to love, are the worst offenders–there are so many addicted to Oxycontin and such, you would not believe. Just because your MD will prescribe them doesn’t mean they are OK for you.

    There is also a huge problem with the elderly who are on multiple medications that alter perception and alertness. I have been writing to State Senator Wasserman, who had proposed road testing elderly drivers. I had personal experience with my 90 year old father in law who was on 13 prescription drugs (and that number is quite common,) who had neuropathy, severely diminished reflexes and often fell asleep while driving. He refused to stop driving and there was nothing we could do. He threatened to sue his physician if there was any intervention with the DMV. He finally lost his license after multiple accidents and incidents and it’s a miracle he didn’t kill someone. The state need to take more proactive intervention to identify and remove the licenses of impaired drivers of any age. Physicians should be required to report impaired driver/patients to the DMV for supervision. However, that will not stop most from driving if there is a vehicle available, whether they own it or not.

    Tough problem to manage–whether the impairment is from health, drugs (legal and otherwise,) or alcohol.

    We try to protect ourselves by not being on the road after midnight, especially on weekends when the alcohol impaired driver population is the highest. But there are thousands of drivers taking prescription drugs who are also impaired just by virtue of using those drugs, legal or not. That’s totally unregulated–

  34. I have a family member who has been convicted of DUI three times. I have no sympathy for OWI but I must say that the third time he was barely over the legal limit which I think is too low. Here’s the problem as I see it. He got some work release jail time, a big fine, legal costs, and lost license. Now in order to pay all these bills and continue to pay living expenses, he must work and since he is self-employed, he is driving without a license. Somehow that doesn’t make sense! I think that one of the things that needs to be done is to confiscate the vehicle and don’t return it until a breath/ignition monitor is installed that doesn’t let anyone else blow in it. It must be paid for to get the car back. Then issue a license to operate only during working travel.

    Now for people who are operating “dead drunk”, they must be incarcerated…period. There’s a difference for being .09 and .29! When someone is dead drunk and is allowed to get behind the wheel, anyone associated should also pay a hefty fine…but not one so large ($10K) that they can’t pay or will punish their family.

    Obviously a very difficult problem to solve, especially for the chronic alcoholics, but there is not reason for someone with more than 5 convictions to be “on the loose”, but why should we pay $30 per year to lock them up? We need jails like the sheriff in AZ who keeps them in tents, feeds them peanut butter sandwiches, and makes them wear pink undies. Make jail a deterrent…not a vacation!

    How about sewing their mouths shut after the 4th offense if death is too severe? 🙂 Prescription drugs is a cop out!

  35. Look at these penalties:
    http://webpages.charter.net/ricknet/duilaws.htm

    I must say that Poland might have the best solution, but if I had to attend Obama or Clinton political lectures, it might cause me to get drunk just to go. 🙂

  36. So, any idea how up to date that list might be? The lectures sound Soviet-era, as do the Russian and Bulgarian penalties.

  37. El Gato – you mention a family member who was “barely over” the legal limit on their 3rd offense.

    Isn’t the limit 0.02 for repeat offenders?

    Perhaps the concept of absolute sobriety when behind the wheel of a couple-of-thousand pound killing machine just too hard for your relative to handle?

  38. Amy, you missed my point completely. There are chronic drunks and stupid people driving who are technical drunks. They need to be separated so that some common sense is used so that they can still pay their bills and survive. I don’t know if .o2 is the limit, but if it is it’s even more stupid!

  39. they drove drunk. they have no common sense. they’ve already proven that.

    stupidity isn’t a valid excuse. i’m pretty sure on that one.

    absolute sobriety for someone already convicted of DUI isn’t stupid.

    it’s common sense.

  40. Amy, I think you’re not being objective here. The legal limit for years and years was .10 and then the Feds forced everyone to lower it to .08 in order to get highway funds. I doubt that new lower standard has done anything about the problem except to get more people convicted. I wonder how often someone at .081 to .10 is actually involved in an accident that was caused by “being drunk”. It seems like everytime I hear of anyone being involved, their level is way above .10 but I did read that teenagers have a very low level when they are involved. Could it be that one’s tolerance level goes up with age or use? I don’t know.

    My only point is that I think it’s stupid to force people to drive without a license in order to make a living. If that’s the case, put them in jail and put the family on public assistance. (I said that tongue-in-cheek).

    I have a feeling that I’ve driven or ridden my bike and been slightly over .08 even though I’m very careful to count drinks against the clock. I’ve never operated and felt like I was affected, but apparently that’s not a valid test. I usually stop drinking well before I have to drive, but .08 is a pretty low level.

    I’d like to give you a little more info on the case of the relative I mentioned. He wasn’t driving, but his girlfriend was. They had just left the bar and driven about one block and she said “I can’t drive.” and she stopped the car right in the street.
    My relative said they swapped places and he pulled the car into an empty lot where they were going to call a cab. As luck would have it, a squad car observed this and pulled up and ticketed both of them. My relative said, “I only pulled the car out of the street.” but the cop wasn’t buying it.

    Now that could all be baloney. Drinkers have a way of telling lies, but if it is true, and the cop observed him moving the car out of the street and parking, then common sense was in order. The cop could have watched them call for a cab and driven by later to see that the car was still parked. Sometimes common sense is required. It was the first time for the girlfriend.

  41. Physically .29 is much different than .09! Legally there is no difference and I’m suggesting that maybe there should be. I’m not defending anyone and I made it clear that I have no sympathy for DUI. Dan, you’re just being a pharisee!

  42. BTW, along that same train of thought, I might say that stealing a loaf of bread by a homeless person might need to be looked at differently than someone stealing a designer shirt from Boston Store. Is “the law the law” or is there a place for intelligent application of the law? You all miss my point of forcing driving without a license in order to survive. What’s your answer? Let them starve or freeze to death?

  43. Gato, I’m starting to like you. Intelligent application of the law would be a good thing. I’m not quite with you on the notion of “forcing” people to drive without a license. There is a saying about soiling where you eat.

  44. Don’t judges have a role to play? We don’t want push-over judges or activist judges, but we don’t want hands-tied-can’t-do-anything judges either, do we? Not to quibble about slightly over or not, but for stuff like getting the car out of the street, or there was a branch hanging in front of the speed limit sign–a little discretion is not a bad thing.

  45. Dan, you’re deviating wildly from the points I was making. As long as the law is as it is, it must be enforced, but perhaps it would be wise to revisit the law with some common sense in order to allow for the fact that someone who is ticketed for .o81 should be allowed to drive to work even on a third offense. Someone ticketed for .29 even on a first offense should do at least 30 days in jail. That was my main point….common sense in treating a very serious and intractable social problem.

  46. Dan, are you so blinded by dislike for me that you can’t read and comprehend what I’ve posted? You are COMPLETELY ignoring every point I’ve made.
    Then you have to become insulting just to prove that you are somehow right. I give up on you!

  47. BrkfldDad says:

    I won’t name the name, as I’d prefer not to make it any worse for the family. But, if you once again want to see how hard it hits home, a BCHS 07 grad passed away this weekend. Obit says he died in his sleep, classmates tell us it was a heroin overdose. It CAN happen in Brookfield folks!