Strength Of Drunk Driving Laws Debated

5:51 PM, Jul 17, 2012   |    comments
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Greensboro, NC -- It's been almost a year since life changed for three Piedmont families.

Early one July 2011 morning, a drunk Curtis Lutterloh slammed into two men on the side of I-40/85 in Alamance County. One of them, Darren Jones, died. The other, Carl Wheeler, was permanently injured.

Lutterloh was sentenced to 41-59 months in prison. He must pay the Jones family more than $3,100 in restitution. But his sentence had some WFMY News 2 viewers questioning whether drunk driving laws and sentences are tough enough.

Opinions on the issue vary depending on who you ask.

Alamance Co. District Attorney Pat Nadolski says North Carolina's DWI laws stack up pretty well against other states. But he says there is still room for improvement when an impaired driver hurts or kills someone.

"As it stands right now, if you get drunk and you kill somebody, the judge has the discretion to give you a suspended sentence," Nadolski said. "And I think if you kill somebody, you need to go to prison. No questions."

Under our state's laws, a drunk driver who kills someone can face up to a second degree murder charge. The state Supreme Court took first degree murder off the table years ago. Even still, some people say tougher penalties aren't the answer to get people to stop drinking and driving.

"By making it tougher, you're punishing," criminal defense attorney Joel Oakley said. "Is that fixing the problem? I don't think so. If you take one person off the street, how many have you left out there? I still believe treatment and education is what really changes society -- not just putting somebody away."

If a change is to be made to the drunk driving laws, it has to be done by our state's legislators.

Last December, Laura's Law went into effect. It is named after Laura Fortenberry, a 17-year old from gaston County who was killed by a drunk driver. The driver has three prior DWI convictions. Under this law, people with previous DWI convictions who hit and kill someone will get one to three years in prison. The law also increased the fine from 4,000 to 10,000 dollars.

At the beginning of July, the legislature passed a law that allows the state to continuously monitor offenders to see if they are drinking. Violators have to wear a bracelet that will show if they have alcohol in their system.

Over the coming weeks, WFMY News 2 will be asking them whether they think changes are necessary. Our team started by calling almost a dozen of them -- those who represent Guilford County. We were only able to reach three of them, but they all agreed it's worth taking a look at toughening the laws. But two of them -- including one who's a former police chief -- agreed in part with Oakley and said that tougher penalties might not be the answer to stopping drunk driving.

WFMY News 2

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