How Are Lawmakers Cracking Down on DUI Offenders

Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- South Carolina legislators have been working to pass a bill named after a young girl who died on New Year's Day in 2012.

Emma Longstreet was 6-years-old when the car she was traveling in was struck by a 26-year-old man who was later charged with DUI.

"If you get a high blood-alcohol content DUI, even on a first offense (of) .12 or above -- that's 50 percent above the legal limit --you've got to put an interlock ignition machine in your car to get your license back," said Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland.

An ignition interlocking device requires a person to blow into a device that then measures their blood-alcohol level. If that person blows a content higher than the .08 legal limit , the car will not start.

Records from Mothers Against Drunk Driving show 19 different states requiring drivers getting DUI's on their first offense to use the device.

Lourie said South Carolina law only requires it on a second offense.

The bill in Longstreet's name passed the state Senate in Feb. 2013. It has sat in house subcommittee since that date.

"We're going to have hearings on the bill starting next week," said David Weeks, D-Sumter, the Chairman of the Criminal Laws Subcommittee where the bill sits.

"Some of the things that concern me is that we have multiple vehicles in a home, and the question becomes whether we are going to order an interlocking device on a vehicle are you talking about all four vehicles at the home?

Law enforcement sources we spoke to pointed to a willingness by convicted drunk drivers to get behind the wheel once their license is revoked, though doing so is against the law. That means people with multiple cars may squeeze between the cracks.

Weeks said he would make sure next week's hearing was "fair and impartial" when asked if he would try to tighten up laws relating to individuals with multiple cars.

"What we've seen in other state's where they've had successful ignition interlock programs - you've seen highway fatalities go down by as much as 35-40 percent," Lourie said.

Weeks said his "intent is to see that something comes out of the (full) committee before the end of this legislative session."

DUI related laws are sure to get renewed focus after the death of 3-year-old Josiah Jenkins Tuesday morning.

Josiah was placed on life-support after the vehicle he was traveling in with his mother was struck by Lonnie Gross, 45, whom records from the State Law Enforcement Division show has been convicted four times for DUI offenses.

Gross was released from jail in Nov. for another DUI charge when he ran into the vehicle Josiah was traveling in.

Bond was denied for Gross Tuesday after charges were upgraded to include felony DUI resulting in death.

The House subcommittee is set to meet next Thursday at 9 a.m., Weeks said.


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