Wichita A man with four convictions for driving under the influence might not permanently lose his license even if he is convicted a fifth time for an accident that killed a Wichita woman and her 4-year-old daughter.
Gary Hammitt is charged with two counts of second-degree murder and driving under the influence after an Oct. 1 accident that killed Claudia Mijares, 37, and her daughter, Gisele, as they walked to the girl's preschool.
Police say Hammitt, 54, was under the influence and speeding when the accident happened. He is being held in the Sedgwick County Jail under a $1 million bond.
But because of the way state law is applied by the Division of Motor Vehicles, even if Hammitt is convicted of drunken driving in the crash, he would have to be caught driving under the influence two more times before the state could permanently revoke his license.
Hammitt's criminal record goes back 34 years and includes four previous DUI convictions. He also was charged but not convicted in a fifth DUI case in 1983. And in 1994, he refused to take an alcohol test after a hit-and-run injury accident, a police report said.
But because of the way the state applies the law, only two of Hammitt's four DUI convictions count against him.
A 2001 state law says that a person will permanently lose his or her license after a fifth "alcohol occurrence," which includes a conviction for DUI or failing or refusing to take an alcohol test.
But the state's driver's license database goes back only to 1996. Before the law went into effect, the Division of Motor Vehicles purged DUI conviction records after five years because there was no requirement to keep them and because of computer-system and record-storage limitations, said Marcy Ralston, chief of the state's Driver Control Bureau.
Because of that procedure, only Hammitt's convictions in 1998 and 2005 count toward a permanent revocation, she said. His 1979 conviction and 1986 conviction don't count, even though local courts have records of them.
The case has some officials wanting the law changed.
Mary Ann Khoury, president of Wichita-based DUI Victim Center of Kansas, said, "It seems to me that this system that one DUI (conviction) is counted and another is not is wrong."
State Sen. Phil Journey, R-Haysville, said he would support a change so courts could forward a certified document outlining convictions against a person to the state agency that administers driver's licenses.
Such a document would allow the Division of Motor Vehicles to start counting DUI convictions and "alcohol occurrences" before 1996, Journey said.
One issue that could arise if the state began using older records is that municipal courts retain records in various ways, meaning what happens to people's licenses could depend partly on how well their city court keeps DUI records.
Khoury said the law should be changed so that any DUI conviction occurring during a person's life counts against them. Three occurrences, not five, should be enough, she said.
While some people might argue that a 30-year-old conviction shouldn't hurt someone's driving privileges, it is relevant when it is part of a pattern of behavior that continues over decades, Khoury said.
The Division of Motor Vehicles said it couldn't immediately provide the number of times that a lifetime revocation has occurred.