Parents of Pennsylvanians killed in DUI crashes were joined in Harrisburg Tuesday by Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman and state legislators in asking for reform to current DUI laws.
The group asked for harsher treatment of “high-risk” DUI defendants – repeat offenders, drugged drivers, and high-alcohol-level offenders – as they cause most devastation on state roadways.
About a dozen families, led by Lancaster County residents Chris and Susan Demko, held a call for reform Tuesday morning at the capitol, pointing to 13 proposed bills aimed at high-risk offenders but have, so far, not passed.
Chris Demko said it is time for impaired driving to be viewed as much more than “just a DUI.”
In a powerful closing statement, Starr Gleason, who lost her mother, sister and nephew in a 2002 crash in Perry County, asked rhetorically:
“Was the crash that killed my family just a DUI?”
During the hour-long presentation, a screen displayed 22 victims killed in Pennsylvania crashes involving high-risk offenders. Many of their parents stood on a stage with larger photos of their loved ones.
Chris Demko stressed several areas in need of legislative reform, including:
- Creating a felony charge for repeat offenders.
District Attorney Stedman said under current law a person twice convicted of stealing a pen from Wal-Mar can be charged with a felony for a third offense. DUI remains a misdemeanor regardless of the number of prior convictions, Stedman said.
- Increasing penalties for repeat offenders who cause fatal crashes.
Sen. John Rafferty outlined his bill which would increase the current mandatory prison sentence for vehicular homicide while DUI from 3 to 5 years for repeat offenders. Those with at least three prior DUIs would face a 7-year mandatory for vehicular homicide while DUI, Rafferty explained.
Demko also spoke of stiffer penalties for those who continue to drive despite being on a DUI-related suspended license. An estimated 50 to 75 percent of those drivers continue to get behind the wheel, Demko said.
A few of the victims’ survivors then discussed the devastation caused by impaired-driving crashes.
The Demkos lost their daughter, Meredith, in a 2014 crash caused by a repeat offender under the influence of alcohol and heroin.
While urging legislators to take action, Chris Demko told the crowd, “Let’s try to figure out how to solve the problem.”
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