Drunken drivers can pose risk after incidents

Suspects allowed behind wheel while awaiting charges

Crews work the scene of a head-on collision on the 900 block of Maine Street on Sept. 7, 2012.

Shawnee County Jail mugshot of Justin M. Crawford. Police reports indicate that Crawford was driving in the wrong lane, causing a head-on collision Sept. 7 in the 900 block of Maine Street. Crawford, according to the police report, had at least three prior DUI convictions, and alcohol use is suspected in the accident. Toxicology results are pending.

Drunken driving record

A drunken driver’s record — Justin M. Crawford’s legal history:

• Arrested and convicted in 1998 in Topeka for drunken driving. Paid a $562 fine, spent two days in jail and 12 months on probation.

• Arrested in 1999 on suspicion of drunken driving. Crawford refused an alcohol breath test and paid a $249 fine.

• Convicted in 2001 for drunken driving in Shawnee County. Paid a $1,000 fine and spent a year on probation.

• Caused an accident in 2004 in Topeka but fled the scene.

• Arrested in 2005, which later resulted in his third DUI conviction. Spent three months in jail, two years on house arrest, and his licence was suspended in 2006.

• Driver’s license was reinstated in 2009.

• If Crawford is convicted for drunken driving again, he would face a minimum $1,750 fine, 90 days to a year in jail, one year suspended license, and required use of an ignition interlock for two years. A conviction would count as his third DUI conviction, even though it would be his fourth, because offenses before 2001 are not counted toward the total.

— Information obtained from court and various state and county records.

A white Toyota RAV4 SUV driven by 39-year-old Lawrence resident Justin M. Crawford flew through the stoplight and busy intersection at Ninth and Maine streets on the afternoon of Sept. 7, heading south in excess of an estimated 60 mph in a 25 mph zone.

At the same time, Lawrence resident Lin Stearns, 49, and longtime friend Jean Drumm, 67, were heading north, about halfway down the 900 block of Maine Street after a swim at the Robinson Center, when they saw the SUV barreling straight at them.

An accident diagram from the police report shows the SUV driving on the left, and incorrect, side of the road when it collided head-on with Drumm’s Buick Century.

After the accident, both vehicles ended up on the grass near the sidewalk, cockeyed and heavily damaged. The front ends of both vehicles were crushed deep into the front seats.

Emergency workers spent 15 minutes extricating Drumm and Crawford from their vehicles. About a dozen people stood on the sidewalk, grimacing in horror as moans came from the SUV. A witness to the accident approached the trapped Crawford before emergency workers arrived, offering assistance.

Crawford kept saying, “Just kill me,” according to a police report.

Crawford and Drumm were taken to Kansas University Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., with serious injuries. Stearns, meanwhile, had a broken left ankle.

Police preliminarily noted alcohol intoxication, on the part of Crawford, as a contributing factor in the collision.

If blood tests sent in for testing confirm police suspicions, it wouldn’t be the first time a drunken Crawford had been caught driving on the wrong side of the road.

A Journal-World investigation discovered at least three previous drunken driving convictions for Crawford, dating back to 1999, including a 2006 conviction — his third — in which he was also charged with driving in the wrong lane. Over the years, Crawford’s license has been suspended, and he’s spent a few days in jail and several years on probation.

And after the Sept. 7 accident, Crawford — while possibly drunk — could have legally hopped back on the road later that day.

Despite new drunken driving laws enacted in recent years to protect Kansans against intoxicated drivers, it’s conceivable that Crawford, who could not be reached for comment about this story, could continue to drive for another year, or longer, before a possible case against him drags through the court system.

What can be done to keep drivers like Crawford in cases like this off the road in the meantime?

Lag time

It could take police and prosecutors months to charge Crawford. In serious injury cases, police often wait for a suspect’s blood work results before sending information to prosecutors for possible charges, as opposed to relying on an on-scene breath test in typical DUI cases. Two other local suspected drunken drivers face a similar situation in recent cases. Kansas University student Julian Kuszmaul, 21, has yet to be charged in an accident that severed a fellow KU student’s legs on Aug. 26. At the scene, officers suspected Kuszmaul was intoxicated on marijuana and alcohol.

In another case, a KU law school student, 25-year-old Jay E. Berryman, hit a pedestrian on Ninth Street on Sept. 2. The accident sent a fellow KU student to the hospital with serious injuries. Both Berryman and Kuszmaul are free to drive as they await possible charges.

But even when a habitual drunken driver ends up in custody immediately, there’s a chance he or she could be back on the road quickly.

On Oct. 7, Meriden resident Joshua Kane Matthews, 24, led police on a low-speed chase through the streets of Lawrence.

Police eventually deployed spike strips, flattening three of the vehicle’s tires, but Matthews continued traveling at a speed between 10 and 20 mph. Police were finally able to bring the vehicle to a stop after it hit the back of a patrol car near the intersection of Sixth Street and Kasold Drive.

Officers broke the vehicle’s window to apprehend Matthews, and they found both drugs and alcohol in the vehicle.

Douglas County Jail booking photo of Meriden man Joshua Kane Matthews, 24. Matthews was arrested Oct. 7 after leading police on a low-speed chase through the streets of Lawrence. He was charged with 10 crimes, including aggravated assault, a third offense of driving while intoxicated, and fleeing law enforcement.

Matthews, like Crawford, has multiple drunken driving convictions. A Journal-World search located at least two prior convictions, both in Geary County.

A few days after the incident, Matthews appeared via video conference from the Douglas County Jail before Douglas County District Court Judge Robert Fairchild and was formally charged with 10 crimes, including aggravated assault, a third offense of driving while intoxicated, and fleeing law enforcement.

Fairchild, after reading the charges, set Matthews’ bond at $15,000. If Matthews had come up with the bond, or enough to pay to a bail bondsman, he could’ve been back on the road in a matter of hours.


The courts do have methods for keeping drivers such as Matthews — and Crawford, if he’s arrested — off the roads before a conviction, said Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe.

In Johnson County, judges, as a condition of bond, sometimes order defendants in repeat drunken driving cases to wear an alcohol-monitoring device, such as a Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring, or SCRAM, device. The devices, used frequently in probation and parole, attach to an ankle and periodically test the amount of alcohol in someone’s system. Results are then sent to a probation or parole office.

Basically, drink alcohol, and authorities will know. Drink alcohol while on bond and prohibited to do so, and a judge could order a defendant back to jail and off the streets.

The SCRAM devices are an option for habitual drunken drivers in Douglas County, but they just haven’t been used yet, said Fairchild, the county judge.

“It is one tool we could use,” Fairchild said.

But ordering defendants on bond to wear SCRAM devices poses some resource issues and wouldn’t completely keep habitual drunken drivers off the road, he said.

The Douglas County Community Corrections Department, which monitors probationers, has just 21 of the devices, which cost about $2,000. Those devices are used by the county’s probationers, and a supply for DUI offenders on bond would be limited.

There aren’t enough of the devices, and there are too many habitual drunken drivers revolving through the local court system, Fairchild said.

Fairchild also said the devices wouldn’t necessarily keep someone from driving drunk and causing a serious accident; it’s just that authorities would know someone had been drinking and could revoke bond after the fact.

The only surefire way to keep drivers with multiple convictions off the road is incarceration, Fairchild said. But even with someone who has 10 or more DUIs, the maximum sentence is one year in jail. That’s where the Legislature needs to step in and make the penalties harsher, Fairchild said.

“We would love to be able to have more teeth,” he said.

Fairchild, however, said the SCRAM devices would make sense in some local cases and could help keep a habitual drunken driver off the roads in the year or so before the case is resolved.

“That may be something we should think about,” he said.

Not the first time

As Stearns talks about the September accident that sent her and her longtime friend to the hospital, she has harsh words for Crawford. It wasn’t be the first time Stearns was hit head-on by a drunken driver — in 1981, Stearns spent six weeks in a coma, before waking to a traumatic brain injury and lifelong cognitive impairment, after being hit head-on by a drunken driver.

This time around, Stearns broke several bones in one of her legs.

Drumm, meanwhile, spent about a month in the hospital, and is currently at a rehabilitation facility healing from two broken legs.

Legislative measures, budget constraints and the rights of defendants are factors lost on Stearns. She simply wants the roads cleared of drunken drivers.

“Doesn’t he (Crawford) realize how he affects others’ lives?” Stearns asked.