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Archive for Sunday, June 1, 2003

DUI law changes include possibility of impounding car

Atchison couple’s campaign results in tougher rules

June 1, 2003

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— Kansans who drive drunk soon will feel the consequences of an Atchison couple's grief over their son's death.

Beginning July 1, a new law will give state judges the authority to order cars in drunken driving cases immobilized or impounded for up to a year, even for a first offense -- and even if the driver doesn't own the car.

The law is the result of more than two years of work by Dennis and Linda Beaver of Atchison, who began campaigning for tougher laws after their 23-year-old son, Casey, died in a crash with a drunken driver.

Casey Beaver was driving Aug. 4, 2000, on U.S. Highway 71 near Neosho, Mo., when a man who had been convicted of drunken driving eight times and had no license swerved and hit Beaver's car head-on. Both drivers died.

Among other changes, the Beavers wanted to increase the financial cost of driving drunk.

Under the new law, a driver seeking to recover a car after a yearlong stay in a Johnson County impound lot, for instance, could face a bill between $5,110 and $9,125, depending on which city seizes the vehicle. Lot owners can sell the cars to recover costs if owners do not pay the fee to get them released.

Some opponents say the law is too severe and worry it will punish innocent relatives of drunken drivers who lose the family car.

Dennis Beaver said concerns about drunken drivers and their families are misplaced.

"I'm tired of giving people second chances," Dennis Beaver said. "Casey didn't get a second chance. He paid the ultimate price: his life. Until the penalties are stronger than the risk, people are going to continue to drink and drive."

In Missouri, a state law lets Springfield authorities seize and sell cars from people caught driving with licenses that were suspended or revoked for drunken driving. Since 1993, when the law took effect, it has raised about $60,000 for schools.

The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances offers a model law that calls for one- or two-month immobilizations of vehicles when someone convicted of drunken driving drives with a suspended or revoked license.

Kansas officials will have that option, but the law also allows for holding the car up to a year in an impound lot.

People who loan a vehicle to a driver who they know or should know is drunk also can find their cars impounded or immobilized.

One of the seven state legislators who voted against the bill worries that it will hurt too many innocent relatives of drunken drivers.

Children might not be able to get to school, and spouses could lose their jobs if a judge impounds or immobilizes a family's only car, said Kansas Rep. Rick Rehorn, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat.

"I understand these are delicate balancing issues," Rehorn said. "But the laws are getting stricter and stricter and stricter."

Kansas state Sen. Jim Barnett, an Emporia Republican who sponsored the bill, said the law requires a judge to consider whether the sentence would cause offenders or their families to lose a job, education or medical care before ordering impoundment or immobilization.

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