Blurring the line: Drunk driving and its consequences - WREX.com – Rockford’s News Leader

Blurring the line: Drunk driving and its consequences

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Statistics show one-third of all traffic related deaths involve drinking and driving, and that number goes up during the summer months.

"Amanda was a funny, vivacious, bubbly girl that was really involved in school."

That's how friends and family described Amanda Kordich up until the day her life was taken by a drunk driver on July 28, 2008. Forty-four year old Wesley Hanson was drunk and high when he ran a red light at the intersection of Harlem and Forest Hills Road, changing an entire family forever.

"It's not just Amanda who died that day," Diane Kordich, Amanda's mother, said. "It's Diane, Seth, Ian, Mitch, grandma and grandpa...all of our lives were changed by this and no one is ever going to be the same."

While Amanda would have been in med school, her killer was getting out of jail.

"The laws for drinking and driving are terrible," Kordich said. "I mean, if you kill someone you can get three to fourteen years, that's the maximum allowed."

In our area, where you get pulled over can make a big difference in the punishment. Just a few miles away in Wisconsin, the laws and prevention efforts vary drastically.

"Well, Illinois, at least, in enacting effective drunk driving counter measures, is doing a much better job than Wisconsin," Frank Harris, spokesperson for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) said.

MADD believes there are five key measures states can take to reduce DUI-related fatalities. Wisconsin has three of them in place:

  • Enhanced penalties for drunk driving with a child in the car
  • Revoking a drunk driver's license upon arrest
  • Participating in no refusal events

Illinois enforces all five, adding conducting sobriety checkpoints and making the ignition interlock mandatory for all first-time DUI offenses if the individual wants to continue to drive during their suspension period to the three measures listed above.

Harris said, "License suspension alone does not teach a convicted drunk driver to drive sober, whereas an ignition interlock, according to the CDC, has proven to not only save lives but to reduce repeat offenses by 67 percent."

Wisconsin is the only state to not consider your first drunk driving offense to be a crime. Harris said "that really shows how serious Wisconsin really is about drunk driving. A first offense is not a criminal misdemeanor, it's a glorified traffic ticket."

Wisconsin State Trooper Kevin Kinderman countered that statement, saying the punishments are still strict. "Even though the first offense drunk driving is not a crime, the penalties that go with a first offense are still there."

In Illinois, Trooper Brent Massingill believes the extra measures have been affective in getting drunk drivers off the roads. "We do have pretty good success with the roadside safety checks," he said. "Every time we do one, I think we're at least taking a few drunk drivers off the road."

The check point usually doesn't take much time at all, unless the driver appears drunk. Then, the trooper will conduct a field sobriety test including checking the subject's pupils, having them walk the line, stand on one leg, and possibly take a breathalyzer test. In the best case scenario, a drunk driver has to take one of these tests. In the worst case scenario, they're headed to jail for killing an innocent victim.

Regardless of what state you're in, there are steps you can take to prevent more families from losing a loved one to drunk driving.

Diane Kordich said of Wesley Hanson, "I'm devastated that he was with a bunch of friends and none of them took his keys away."

Trooper Kinderman advised, "Don't ever hesitate if you see or observe another vehicle that appears the driver might be intoxicated by the way they're driving. Don't ever hesitate to call 911."

"You know, you think it's not going to be you, so you don't say anything. But tomorrow, it could be your daughter. It could be your son. It could be your grandchild." Kordich said.

Several roadside safety checks were set up in the stateline for the 4th of July holiday. Illinois State Police District 16 will conduct two more this weekend. In Wisconsin, check points are illegal.

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