A special section honoring your neighbors, unsung heroes and people who do the little things that just make life better in Lawrence.
Read about the honorees for the 2011 Only in Lawrence: "About town" category.
When Greg Benefiel worked in his family’s convenience store business, he spent time volunteering as an emergency medical technician for the Douglas County Ambulance Service.
He remembers responding to accident scenes where drunken drivers had done major damage, including where a teenage girl had struck a tree and became paraplegic.
“I saw firsthand what impaired drivers could do to other people as well as themselves,” said Benefiel, 49, who after spending three years as an assistant Douglas County district attorney is now the office’s primary DUI prosecutor.
Benefiel says his passion on the issue will aid him as he takes on his new job, especially prosecuting cases against repeat DUI offenders.
He’s lived in Lawrence for 30 years and decided to return to Kansas University to pursue a second career, and he graduated from law school in 2005.
In his first job out of law school, Benefiel prosecuted cases in Overland Park Municipal Court involving officers who worked the overnight shift, including several DUI cases.
He also spent nine months as an assistant district attorney in Reno County before Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson hired him as an assistant district attorney in 2008.
Benefiel prosecuted all kinds of cases until the Douglas County Commission granted Branson funding for a new attorney position to prosecute DUI cases. He’s been working to transition full-time into the role, even making himself available for early morning phone calls from officers if they have a question about a DUI investigation.
He’s served on the Kansas DUI Commission and served as a DUI section leader for the Kansas County District Attorney’s Association.
Branson said Benefiel has learned intricate legal concepts about DUI cases, which can be difficult to prosecute because juries often want more than just an account of what the officer observed. Last year Branson’s office encouraged officers to seek a search warrant to draw blood in all cases where a suspected drunken driver refuses all tests.
“He has become an expert in this area and has presented at many seminars across the state,” Branson said.
Tom Stanton, Reno County deputy district attorney, said Benefiel’s passion for DUI cases was important, but his demeanor inside and outside the courtroom have made him successful with juries as well.
Benefiel can often be seen outside court joking with fellow attorneys and court staffers.
“He’s confident, but he’s also a humble guy,” said Stanton, a former KU public safety officer. “There’s not an arrogant bone in his body. I think the world of Greg.”
Stanton said Benefiel and his wife, Helen, are also caring and thoughtful. Even after Benefiel left Reno County to work for Branson, he continued to bring cookies Helen baked to give out to people who dropped off toys at an annual Toys for Tots Drive in the Hutchinson office, Stanton said.
“I don’t think I every known anybody who disliked Greg,” Stanton said.
For Benefiel, he hopes seeing the impact drunken driving can have as a volunteer EMT, will help him in his new position whether it’s trying cases, helping officers or handling appeals of DUI cases.
“Any time that you’re passionate about a particular subject, it self-motivates you to learn anything you can,” he said. “And then you bring that knowledge that you’ve gained to the position.”