Wash. House Targets Drunk Drivers, Gangs in Public Safety Bills

February 20, 2008

Prompted by growing concern about gang activity and the case of a drunken driver who fled the country after a fatal crash, the House passed several public safety bills.

Now heading to the Senate, one bill passed 94-1, which would lengthen prison stays for people who cause deaths and injuries while driving under the influence.

The proposal was sponsored by Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, cited the case of Frederick Russell — who killed three Washington State University students and injured three others in a drunken driving wreck, and later fled the country.

After his conviction last fall on three counts of vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault, Russell received the maximum sentence of 14 years and three months in prison.

Under Hurst’s measure, people convicted of multiple counts of vehicular assault or vehicular homicide would have to serve the sentences for each crime consecutively, rather than concurrently. Under the bill, Russell would have served three consecutive 14-year prison terms, the lawmaker said.

“What this (bill) says is that you don’t get two or three or four dead bodies for the price of one when it comes to vehicular homicide and vehicular assault when the person is intoxicated,” Hurst said. “We have to say that this is important, far too many people are being killed by drunk drivers, and if as a society we don’t send the proper message, this carnage will continue.”

The House also tackled gang activity, approving a sweeping measure that aims to combat gang violence and steer young people away from joining gangs. That measure also passed 94-1 and heads to the Senate.

The bill stems from recommendations by a bipartisan task force that studied the statewide issue last year. The bill would appropriate $10 million to implement five pilot projects throughout the state that focus on combating criminal street gangs and violence, plus providing another $3 million in other programs, including anti-graffiti efforts.

“There was a consensus — oddly enough that was very strongly voiced by law enforcement — that we could not arrest our way out of this problem,” said Hurst, who also sponsored the anti-gang bill. Prevention, intervention and suppression are all important, he said.

The proposal calls for the Washington State Patrol to create a statewide gang information database that would allow law enforcement agencies to track and identify known gang members. It also would increase sentences for adults who recruit juveniles.

In other action against drunken driving, the House:

Passed a measure that would order people convicted of driving under the influence to obtain an ignition interlock device for their cars, and a provisional license if they want to continue driving. The measure heads to the Senate after a 95-0 vote.

The bill “Will be an important tool in our arsenal against drunk and impaired driving,” said Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie.

The gang measure is House Bill 2712. The drunken driver consecutive sentences bill is HB 2621. The DUI ignition interlock bill is HB 3254.

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