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Serious DUI crashes in the news

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There have been a slew of stories in the news recently about horrific crashes that involve people who were driving under the influence. It’s important to understand how they’re both similar to and different from most other DUI cases.

> In Newport, Michigan, a woman who is accused of being drunk drove into a building where a birthday party was being held. Two young children were killed, and others are in the hospital in critical condition. The driver has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder. While family members state that she has a severe substance abuse issue, her attorney told the court that she has never had a car accident or any involvement with the police before this.

>In Nevada, a driver was involved in a crash that killed two Nevada state troopers. The driver admits to having one drink, but was showing clear signs of substantial impairment at the time of the accident. He was previously convicted of DUI 16 years ago, and will be pleading guilty to two counts of DUI resulting in death.

> In Goleta, CA, an Uber driver was traveling over 120 mph, running red lights and driving otherwise recklessly. He hit a Ford Mustang, killing the two occupants, and is accused of driving under the influence. The driver had two previous DUI convictions in 2010 and 2012, and is facing life in prison.

> In Tracy, CA, a 24 year old woman and 18 year old man were killed when a drunk driver slammed into a parked pickup truck. A 15 year old is also in the hospital with serious injuries, and the impaired driver was not injured. Details about the driver and charges are not yet known.

In Colorado, there are approximately 16,000 DUI arrests per year, and approximately 250 deaths caused by impaired drivers per year. Researchers also estimate that only 1% of drunk drivers are caught. On average, a driver will drive drunk 80 times before they are arrested.

We see a pattern of repeated driving under the influence situations in the stories summarized above. In two of the cases, the driver was arrested for DUI previously before causing the fatal accidents. In one case, relatives describe that the accused driver has a serious alcohol addiction, but has never been caught before for driving under the influence.

If someone is arrested for DUI, or caused an accident and harmed someone else, did they do something different than the other 99 out of 100 times that an impaired driver wasn’t caught? Maybe. Maybe they were more impaired, making it more likely that they would make driving errors to be flagged by an officer or cause a crash. But maybe their degree of impairment was just like the other times, but by chance this was the time that they didn’t get home safely, that an officer saw them driving by, that another car was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The other 99 times, the same outcomes could have happened, but didn’t.

And yet, not all drivers arrested for DUI are habitual offenders. Many will have made the wrong decision just this one time, or they didn’t even realize they were impaired. Or, they think this is the only time, but really there were other times when they might have been impaired and not realized it.

The consequences of driving under the influence can be severe. In the cases described above, the driver may face life in prison, and innocent people lost their lives. More commonly, when someone is charged with a DUI, the consequences will not be that severe, but can still be life-altering. A typical DUI conviction on a first offense will cost the defendant $13,000, they may lose their job, they may serve jail time, they will have long periods on probation, and there can be serious reputational costs. The penalties increase for repeat offenders, and in Colorado the 4th DUI will be a felony charge. Furthermore, if there is a minor in the car at the time of arrest, you will be charged with child abuse, and if you have an accident and someone is injured, you will be charged with felony assault.

If you are charged with DUI in Colorado, you should consult with an attorney to discuss your case right away. A lawyer who specializes in DUI and DWAI cases can help you to navigate the complications of this type of arrest. Attorney Kevin Churchill has been representing drivers accused of drunk driving in Colorado for over 25 years. If you find yourself in this situation, call his office for a free consultation.