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OUR VIEW: SD needs harsher sentences to deter vehicular homicide

Vehicular homicide has hit south central South Dakota hard in recent years.

Young lives were lost in cases when vehicular homicide charges were filed in crashes in rural Davison County, the city of Mitchell, Wagner and rural Charles Mix County recently, forcing families to say goodbye to loved ones as young as 9, 22, 25 and 46 years old.

While some of those vehicular homicide charges were dismissed and others have yet to be tried by the courts, the current maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine is nowhere near enough for the loss of life incurred in these tragic events.

With South Dakota's 2017 legislative session kicking off Tuesday, we're hoping to finally see some changes made to deter this awful crime from occurring in the future.

That's why we commend state Attorney General Marty Jackley for making another attempt to classify vehicular homicide as a violent crime. Jackley's bill, called Senate Bill 24, would force those convicted of vehicular homicide to serve at least half of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole, instead of the 30 percent mandated currently for nonviolent crimes.

After Jackley announced his proposal, along with five other bills, the father of one vehicular homicide victim continued his call for more serious reform, and we agree something needs to be done.

Gregg Spindler — the father of Maegan Spindler, a 25-year-old who was one of two victims in a Charles Mix County crash in which Ronald Fischer was convicted of two counts of vehicular homicide — told The Daily Republic last week he was cynical Jackley's bill would pass after it failed to emerge from a legislative conference committee last year.

But we're hoping the 2017 Legislature, which includes several new faces, realizes the severity of this crime and the major impact it's had on our region and the families of vehicular homicide victims.

With 22 vehicular homicide convictions since 2012 and six others facing charges, this is no small problem in South Dakota. Innocent lives have been lost, and now's the time for the South Dakota Legislature to establish a stronger deterrent for what should absolutely be deemed a violent crime.

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