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Effort for a harsher penalty for vehicular homicide fails

PIERRE-- Another attempt to further toughen South Dakota's vehicular homicide law fell short Thursday in the state Senate. The vote was 15 yes and 17 no on whether to allow vehicular homicide to be charged as first degree manslaughter punishable ...

PIERRE- Another attempt to further toughen South Dakota's vehicular homicide law fell short Thursday in the state Senate.

The vote was 15 yes and 17 no on whether to allow vehicular homicide to be charged as first degree manslaughter punishable by up to life in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Vehicular homicide is a Class 3 felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine.

The House of Representatives had approved the change 49-18 a week ago.

The push for the change came in the wake of a 2013 tragedy at Pickstown.

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A driver high on marijuana and drunk at three times the legal limit plowed through a parking lot and killed Maegan Spindler, 25, and Rob Klumb, 46.

The two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service researchers were talking in a motel lot when a minivan driven by Ron Fischer Jr. failed to stop at the intersection and ran them over.

Circuit Judge Bruce Anderson found Fischer guilty of two counts of vehicular homicide and not-guilty of first or second degree manslaughter.

"We defeated this bill once before." Sen. Kris Langer, R-Dell Rapids, said Thursday as she asked the Senate to block it.

Other senators saw the driver's sentence as too light.

"This family didn't receive justice because our statutes weren't effective," Sen. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, said.

State Attorney General Marty Jackley and the state's-attorneys association supported the change. Lindsey Riter-Rapp for the South Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers opposed it.

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