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Victim's parents: South Dakota, governor disappoint on DUI reform

Maegen Spindler

On July 8, our beautiful 25-year-old daughter, Maegan Elizabeth Spindler, was killed by a drunken driver in Pickstown, along with Dr. Robert Klumb. Standing in a parking lot, completing a 13-hour day for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, they were killed by Ronald P. Fischer Jr., of Lake Andes. High on marijuana with blood alcohol over three times the legal limit, he hit them at highway speed. Maegan was thrown 120 feet; there were no viewable remains.

Blood from her horribly broken body drained into the soil of South Dakota that night. A part of Maegan will forever remain here.

Maegan and Rob were like one-third of all DUI victims — innocent. More innocent victims are killed by drunk drivers than are murdered each year in South Dakota.

In late July, we came to Pierre to gather Maegan’s belongings. We had a meeting at the governor’s office to discuss her death and DUI enforcement. On Aug. 26, Gov. Dennis Daugaard wrote, promising a “data driven, evidence-based” review of DUI. We provided some ideas and the National Transportation Safety Board’s report, “Reaching Zero: Actions to Reduce Alcohol-Impaired Driving” released on May 14, 2013, (see http://go.usa.gov/TeQe).

We felt South Dakota could lead the nation with DUI reforms, because government is small and closer to its people. Perhaps Maegan’s death could lead to positive change and benefit all South Dakotans, and the whole nation.

The proposals were reviewed by the governor’s staff, Department of Public Safety and Highway Patrol. On Nov. 15 we again met, but the only proposal was the Highway Patrol committed to doubling its enforcement actions to 400 in 2014. That means on an average day, only in one spot in the vast state of South Dakota there will be an active DUI enforcement action.

Finally, on Feb. 5, we were informed there would be no major changes in DUI laws. The governor felt changes would not have the “intended effect.”

His assessment totally contradicts the work of the NTSB. Ignoring the NTSB’s report is just as serious as if the CEO of Boeing or Airbus chose to ignore NTSB air safety recommendations.

The governor ignores the success of the European Union, Japan, Australia or Canada reducing deaths, injuries and DUI incidence. In a decade, EU deaths were cut by more than 50 percent, while U.S. death rates have flat-lined. This is not nanny-state socialism; rather, tough laws, deterrence, highly visible enforcement and good police work.

The U.S. is a nanny state and coddles drunken drivers with happenstance enforcement and slap-on-the-wrist penalties. In 2012 there were 10,487 DUI arrests in South Dakota but 4,666 — or 45 percent — did not result in a DUI conviction. Most are plea bargains to lesser charges. Who benefits from this arrangement?

Local law enforcement is starved of resources to vigorously enforce DUI laws, while the state is taking almost all alcohol taxes into its general fund. The state has shifted the DUI costs on to counties and local taxpayers with SB 70 criminal justice reform of 2013. State government has largely socialized the costs of DUI onto local taxpayers and victims.

We hope that the people of South Dakota demand the governor and Legislature enact comprehensive DUI reform based on the NTSB report. It will certainly have the “intended effect” of reducing DUI and preventing needless death and injury. Lack of leadership has the opposite effect. This is not political ideology, simply a matter of public safety. And after all, that is the governor’s first and foremost duty.

The next innocent DUI victim could be you, a loved one or good friend. It will certainly be a South Dakota citizen or a visitor. And it will have been a preventable tragedy.

Details of the Spindler family DUI reform proposals may be found at http://www.sgsstat.com/sd_dui_reform_proposal.html.

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