UPDATE: NY man, father of Pickstown DUI victim, speaks to Sioux Falls audience
SIOUX FALLS — Gregg Spindler paused, shook his head and held back tears as he described the crash that took his daughter’s life.
In July, Spindler’s daughter, 25-year-old Maegan Spindler, and her co-worker, 46-year-old Robert Klumb, died when they were hit by an allegedly drunken driver as they were walking across a hotel parking lot in Pickstown.
“My daughter was a very special person,” Spindler said. “She was a kid that did everything right and she was doing what she loved in a place that she loved.”
Maegan Spindler was working as a fisheries technician assistant for Klumb, the lead research biologist in the Pierre office for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, during the summer when both were killed in the crash.
Thursday, Gregg Spindler, 58, of Cazenovia, N.Y., was in Sioux Falls advocating reforms to South Dakota’s drunken driving laws. Spindler and his wife, Susan, both professional statisticians, have compiled what they call evidence-based and data-driven recommendations to various officials in South Dakota, including Gov. Dennis Daugaard, hoping to stiffen the state’s drunken driving laws.
“With her death, it just shakes you to the absolute core,” Spindler said, referring to his daughter in an interview with The Daily Republic after the event at the Hy-Vee Community Room at 39th and Minnesota. “I want her memory and her death to come to some good.”
As a form of deterrence, Spindler proposes high-visibility enforcement using routine, regular sobriety checkpoints in every county in the state as part of a decade-long effort aimed at cultural change. Roadside suspension or revocation of driver’s licenses and immediate vehicle impoundment for people arrested for drunken driving, Spindler said, would increase the swiftness and severity of the penalties for drunken driving.
The legal blood-alcohol limit for driving in South Dakota, 0.08, should be reduced, Spindler said. Many European nations, he noted, have a legal limit of 0.02, while others have zero tolerance for drinking and driving.
In March, Senate Bill 70 — legislation that made sweeping reforms to the state’s criminal justice system — became law, but made only minor changes to drunken driving laws by classifying a sixth-offense driving under the influence or greater as aggravated, which makes it a violent offense, and by making fourth-offense DUI a more severe felony.
Additional reforms to the law are needed, Spindler said, such as higher fines and mandatory jail time, even for first-time DUI offenders. Nationally, 93 percent of fatal DUI crashes are caused by first-time offenders, he said.
Ronald Fischer Jr., 29, of Lake Andes, is accused of causing the crash that killed Maegan Spindler and Robert Klumb. Fischer faces multiple charges, including first-degree manslaughter, a felony with a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $50,000 fine.
A blood sample after the crash found Fischer’s blood alcohol content was 0.232, nearly three times the legal limit.
“It is not rocket science to make this problem far less frequent and maybe, after a decade, a rarity,” Spindler said.
A dedicated excise tax on alcohol, which Spindler said should be viewed as a user fee, could be used to fund many of his proposed reforms, he said.
Spindler plans to be in Pierre today to meet with a prosecutor in the state Attorney General’s Office, and later with officials in the governor’s office to discuss his proposed reforms. On Thursday, Spindler was optimistic that his recommendations are not being ignored.
“I think that there is real interest and real appetite for change,” he said.
Spindler said he is interested to find out what the governor’s office is prepared to do for the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January.
“I do believe they’re serious,” he said, “and I do believe they’ll have something to put before the Legislature.”
Advocating the reform of South Dakota’s DUI laws has been an emotional, difficult cause to take on for Spindler.
“Do I want to be doing this? No,” he said. “But I think I have to.”