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IN OTHER WORDS: South Dakota's DUI carnage continues

Gregg Spindler, of New York, is the father of Maegan Spindler, who was killed by a drunk driver in Pickstown in 2013. Spindler has since become an advocate drunk driving law reform.

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Gregg Spindler, of New York, is the father of Maegan Spindler, who was killed by a drunk driver in Pickstown in 2013. Spindler has since become an advocate drunk driving law reform.

In Other Words features are opinions from local and other contributors who have special interest or expertise. Material can be sent, along with a photo, to Editor, The Daily Republic, 120 S. Lawler St., Mitchell, S.D., 57301, or emailed to letters@mitchellrepublic.com . The Daily Republic cannot guarantee all submitted material will be used.

The South Dakota Department of Public Safety's 2015 "Crash Report" was posted in November. Compared to 2014, driving under the influence measures are worse across the board: crashes up over 8 percent, injuries up a whopping 24 percent and deaths increased to 48. DUI arrests are down and convictions at a 10 year low. Governor Dennis Daugaard said little in his introduction to the report, noting "alcohol-involved fatal crashes is up slightly". Governor, ignoring the data does not make the problem go away.

As the parents of a victim killed by a drunk driver, we are disturbed at the ambivalence of the governor in face of the worsening DUI problem. This is needless and preventable human suffering.

In the 2016 legislative session, two important DUI bills failed. HB 1085, sponsored by State Rep. Don Haggar, would have allowed, but not required, asset forfeiture for felony repeat DUI offenders. This potent weapon to deter repeat offenders never made it out of committee.

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The second bill, SB 44, also failed. Part of Attorney General Marty Jackley's legislative package, it would have classified vehicular homicide as "a crime of violence" and insure DUI killers would serve 50 percent of their "headline" sentence instead of the current 30 percent. Our daughter was so maimed, we never saw her again, even in death. It was horrific violence.

Instead of supporting Jackley's simple change, a complex compromise was demanded by the governor's office and others creating a new aggravated vehicular homicide statute. The amended SB 44 passed the Senate overwhelmingly. It was rejected in the House Judiciary Committee, which reverted to Jackley's original proposal, and passed overwhelmingly in the full House. Politics then kicked in; a Conference Committee killed the bill, not even allowing Jackley to testify. Most legislators can say they voted to increase vehicular homicide penalties, yet it never became law. Was failure the intent of demanding changes to Jackley's original proposal? It seems a reasonable conclusion.

Why does this outrage exist? Because the governor and Legislature allowed it. The governor, the chief public safety officer, ignores the DUI statistics generated by his own administration and DUI reduction recommendations of the non-partisan US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the premier safety organization in the world. How can he do this with a clear conscience?

Legislators ignore facts and victims. The House Judiciary Committee, which includes practicing defense attorneys, bowed to the South Dakota Defense Lawyers Association which testified against any DUI reforms. The status quo benefits their criminal clients that kill innocent victims. They claim DUI killings have no criminal intent ("mens rea"), ignoring the willful criminal act of driving drunk precedes every single DUI death. The governor's office testified in agreement with this nonsense. Defense lawyers and the governor feel DUI deaths are simply bad luck for the victims and content with doing nothing.

What will happen in 2017? The problem of DUI has only gotten worse since the July 2013 DUI killing of our daughter. We call upon the Governor and Legislature to think about the victims and change DUI laws and practices. Make Vehicular Homicide "a crime of violence." Implement all the 2013 NTSB recommendations. Mandate 24/7 or ignition interlocks for all DUI convicts. Suspend licenses and impound vehicles upon arrest. Fund local governments that bear the brunt of DUI costs. Stop suspended imposition, allowing offenders to escape any consequences. Stop pandering to defense lawyers. Politicians should heed Psalm 37:27 "Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever." If politicians choose to fail DUI victims again, perhaps an initiated measure can change things.

The Christmas season is upon us. For our family, it is the fourth Christmas without our daughter Maegan. The grief for the families of the dead ebbs and flows; suffering and trauma of the injured does not end. Every holiday forever changed by a drunk driver.

Gregg Spindler

Cazenovia, N.Y.

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