'An awful price to pay': Recent tragedies may fuel DUI crackdown

OLYMPIA, Wash. - The new effort to combat drunk driving in our state is getting the fast track at the Capitol.

Gov. Jay Inslee wants tougher penalties and more use of ignition interlock systems. And the increased attention to the issue all stems from recent horrific incidents involving repeat drunk drivers.

It oftentimes takes tragedies to get lawmakers to act quickly. In this case it was the deaths of two grandparents - and the injuries to their daughter and infant grandchild.

Those tragedies, along with the death of a woman hit by a wrong-way drunk driver on Highway 520 earlier this month, have put the governor and state lawmakers in a rush to try to stop the carnage.

"The victims don't get a second chance at life. And so we seem to be giving the drunk drivers a second chance to kill," says state Rep. Roger Goodman.

For four hours in two separate hearings, state lawmakers heard from law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys - and victims' families.Sheena Blair was killed by a drunk driver three years ago. Her father, Frank Blair, has has been fighting ever since for tougher laws.

"Sheena's spirit is with me every day," he says. "I just need to say that our hearts and prayers go out to the Shulte and Williams families. ... Unfortunately, it does turn on that spotlight, but it's an awful price to pay."

Lawmakers from both parties are seizing the opportunity to call for more jail time for repeat offenders - plus a tag on licenses and IDs putting a 10-year prohibition on buying alcohol after a third offense along with requiring more repeat offenders to have interlock devices installed.

The governor's original bill talked about installing these interlock devices at the impound lot for all first-time offenders, but the industry said that's just not feasible.

The interlock folks at Safe Start say it can be a several-hour process. Plus users need training on how to use them.

But those who have them say they work.

Brennan Raiho, who has two DUIs, says: "In the years that I've been sober I've seen quite the little change in my life."

He says he's all in favor of the Legislature's new crackdown - saying life is better not being a drunk driving down the road.

Both the state House and Senate are working on amendments to streamline the bills and hope to have them ready for votes next week.
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