Lawmakers want to curb drunken driving
Harold I. Holmes’ eight drunken-driving arrests and sentences included:
-- Oct. 7, 1990, first offense. He was fined.
-- March 24, 1991, second offense. He was fined.
-- May 3, 1992, third offense. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail and fined.
-- May 17, 1992, fourth offense. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail and fined.
-- June 8, 1992, fifth offense. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail and fined.
-- April 24, 1993, sixth offense. He was sentenced to one year in jail and fined.
-- Sept. 15, 2006, seventh offense. He was fined after mistakenly getting charged like it was his first offense.
-- March 30, 2007, eighth offense. He was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison and fined.
JANESVILLE Harold Holmes was asleep at the wheel, the engine running and the radio blaring when he was arrested for his eighth drunken-driving offense.
He was on the side of the road near Highway 213 in Magnolia Township where a sheriff’s deputy found him.
Holmes smelled like booze, with his eyes bloodshot, his speech slurred and his balance impaired. He nearly fell in the ditch. His blood-alcohol level was 0.297, more than three times the legal limit.
Cases such as his—where a man doesn’t go to prison or treatment after seven previous offenses—is the reason why lawmakers want to toughen the state’s drunken-driving laws.
“There seems to be a culture of drinking that’s very hard to break. I think we have to change that culture,” Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, said. “Wisconsin has the dubious distinction of having the highest drunk-driving rate in the country. It’s embarrassing.”
Legislators on both sides of the aisle are in favor of cracking down on repeat drunken-driving offenders.
Lawmakers might make a third offense a felony, require ignition interlocks after two offenses, expand treatment programs or legalize sobriety checkpoints.
Currently, a first drunken-driving offense in Wisconsin is a citation. The second, third and fourth offenses are misdemeanors. The fifth offense is a felony.
Wisconsin is the only state that gives first-time offenders a citation rather than charging them with a crime.
“It’s obvious that we have a problem here in the state of Wisconsin, and the current laws aren’t curtailing it,” Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, said.
A rash of OWIs
Holmes, 45, Janesville, is a stocky man with a shaved head and a goatee. He recently appeared in Rock County Court wearing a leather jacket and blue jeans.
He has been employed consistently and most recently worked in Milton at a fabrication shop, defense attorney Trish Arreazola said. He owns his own home.
Holmes grew up with a father who used two different last names, probably because he was running from the law, she said.
Holmes was raised under the name Pollard, although his real last name is Holmes, Arreazola said.
He moved into an orphanage after his father went to prison, she said. He lived in foster homes and often was malnourished.
His string of drunken-driving offenses began in the 1990s.
He received fines for his first two offenses. He spent 60 days in jail and was fined for his next three offenses. He was sentenced to one year in jail and fined for his sixth offense.
Holmes was charged with his seventh offense like it was his first because of the confusion between his two last names. He then was charged with his eighth offense in March 2007.
He has never been ordered to spend time in prison or a treatment program, Arreazola said.
Tougher laws needed
Holmes and offenders like him are at risk to re-offend if they don’t get treatment, officials said. And Holmes never received help for his alcohol problem during his spree of drunken-driving offenses.
“I think everyone in this courtroom would like to see Mr. Holmes succeed,” Arreazola said during a recent court hearing. “It appears he is a good candidate for rehabilitation.”
Lawmakers and prosecutors want to see more treatment programs for repeat offenders such as Holmes, but they want tougher sentences as well.
“Everybody screams, ‘Lock them up,’ but once they get out, they’re again a threat,” Rock County District Attorney David O’Leary said. “The problem is always trying to get funding and resources for treatment for alcohol addiction.”
Rep. Chuck Benedict, D-Beloit, said repeat offenders get worse without treatment.
“Addiction is a tough problem,” he said. “There is going to be recidivism.”
But the cost of holding offenders in prison and rehabilitating them is expensive, Kedzie said. No one wants money to be an issue, but people need to be realistic.
“We don’t have enough jail space, we don’t have enough parole officers and we don’t have enough affordable programs and personnel needed for alcohol rehabilitation,” Kedzie said. “A large part of this is personal responsibility, and that is something we just can’t legislate.”
But lawmakers agree that something must be done to protect the public.
Alcohol contributed to 45 percent of fatal crashes in Wisconsin in 2007, killing 337 people.
“We just can’t allow people to keep driving drunk,” Rep. Kim Hixson, D-Whitewater, said. “It’s a safety hazard to our citizens, and it’s a danger.”
Prison time imposed
Holmes was convicted of his eighth drunken-driving offense after a jury trial in November.
He appeared in Rock County Court on Friday, Jan. 30, for his sentencing hearing.
“I’m sorry,” Holmes told the judge. “I can’t say it enough.”
Before punishing Holmes, Judge Alan Bates talked about Wisconsin’s heritage of drinking alcohol.
He mentioned the state’s history of carnage on the highway. He also addressed the Legislature’s desire to impose more severe penalties on repeat offenders.
“It’s a public issue of concern,” Bates said.
The judge told Holmes he had many opportunities to get help in the midst of his eight offenses.
“Shame on you for not saying, ‘I’ve got to do something about this,’” Bates said.
He sentenced Holmes to 2½ years in prison followed by three years of extended supervision. He also ordered Holmes to get treatment while incarcerated.
“We’ve got to stop this,” Bates said.
The Legislature is looking at these changes in Wisconsin’s drunken-driving laws:
-- Making drunken driving a felony on the third or fourth offense. Currently, it isn’t a felony until the fifth offense. Gov. Jim Doyle said he supports making a third drunken-driving conviction a felony.
-- Requiring the installation of ignition interlocks on vehicles of offenders with two or three drunken-driving convictions. Ignition interlocks are breathalyzers that must be passed to start cars.
-- Lowering the prohibited blood-alcohol level from 0.08 to 0.02 for second and subsequent drunken-driving offenses, according to a bill introduced by Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn.
-- Allowing offenders to serve less jail time if they finish a treatment program.
-- Legalizing sobriety checkpoints, another effort Doyle supports.