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LAURIE ROBERTS' COLUMNS & BLOG
Laurie Roberts is a columnist for The Arizona Republic.
Drive drunk and lose your license. But drive drunk and kill somebody?
(Column published Sept. 29, 2007.)
This being the second weekend of a new DUI crackdown, it seems a good time to check in on a suspected drunk driver accused of killing someone in the days before we decided to get tough on drunks. Turns out the state of Arizona has finally figured out that Lori Ann Gilbert should not be driving. This, just seven months after police say she swerved into oncoming traffic and killed a Phoenix grandmother. This, just three months after she was caught driving and driving a second time, in remarkably similar circumstances. It's said that our new DUI laws are among the toughest in the nation. After following Gilbert's case, I'd say there's still room for improvement. It was just before noon on Feb. 16 and Phyllis Martin had just picked up her four-year-old grandson from preschool. She was headed north on 43rd Avenue toward Thunderbird when a southbound pickup crossed into incoming traffic, hitting her head on. Martin, 55, was dead at the scene and her grandson, injured. Gilbert, 36, told police she'd had two beers. Two giant beers, evidently. Blood tests put her alcohol level at 0.328 percent, more than four times the legal limit. Yet police didn't take her license that day, despite a state law that allows them to temporarily suspend the driving privileges of suspected drunk drivers. Four months later, Gilbert was still legally licensed to careen down the streets. Marana police spotted her just before midnight on June 27, driving up onto a sidewalk then drifting across several lanes and up onto the center median. A preliminary breath test put her at 0.243 percent. Marana police didn't take her license either, deciding to wait on results of a blood test. By August, they were still waiting. Now, however, a judge has finally found a way to mix common law and common sense. Earlier this month, after a story about Gilbert's continued driving hit public view, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon demanded her license then destroyed it. “He was very good,” said attorney Nick Hentoff, who is representing the victim's family. “He made her turn over her license right there.” Gordon also ordered Gilbert not to drink – something you'd think would be standard in such cases -- and he scheduled a hearing for next week to determine whether she should even be out of jail, given evidence that she continued to drink and drive after Martin's death. Martin's family wants her off the streets, saying she's proved that she's a danger. It'll be interesting to see if prosecutors join the family during Friday's hearing. Earlier this month, they were content to leave Gilbert free on a $25,000 bond. Meanwhile, a pair of legislators are astonished that Gilbert was still licensed to drive, seven months after the fatal crash. “I think I can pretty much guarantee we'll be taking a look at that next year,” said Sen. Jim Waring, the Phoenix Republican who sponsored the new DUI laws that took effect last week. “That definitely is a flaw in the law and should be changed,” echoed GOP Sen. Linda Gray of Phoenix. “It doesn't make sense at all.” According to Arizona law, police can seize a suspected drunk driver's license and notify the state Motor Vehicle Division, so that it can administratively suspend it. But the law applies only when a person is arrested for DUI. Police don't pursue DUI charges in manslaughter cases, for fear of jeopardizing the more serious charges. Thus, you can drive drunk in Arizona and lose your license. But you can drive drunk and kill someone, and keep on driving. Makes perfect sense. Doesn't it?
Friday, September 28, 2007 at 02:02 PM Report a Violation Topics: AZTALK, PLUGGED IN - PHOENIX, REPUBLIC COLUMNISTS
7 COMMENTS FROM 6 USERS
<Reverse Sort Order> posted by Skyelark on Oct 3, 2007 at 04:35 AM Report Violation
Drunk drivers don't care about anyone but themselves. After all, they have rights! This woman should be sent to prison for at least five years. There is absolutely no excuse for what she did. And please don't tell me alcoholism is a disease. I'm fully aware of the problems associated with alcoholism. I also know that drinking, despite the protests of alcoholics, is a choice! Lori Ann Gilbert made a choice to keep drinking, despite knowing she had a problem. She might have denied it because of her stupid arrogance,but she was fully aware that she had a problem. And because of it, an innocent person died.
posted by nocgirl on Oct 1, 2007 at 11:59 AM
This is why anyone who has a suspended license, should have their vehicle seized. I know several people who still drive on suspended licenses from DWI's. Many do not care.
No license-no car.
posted by aridlandman on Sep 29, 2007 at 10:21 AM
About time. Hopefully, they'll start pulling the passports of foreign "Princesses" in the future, as well.
posted by Angelface on Sep 28, 2007 at 03:26 PM
I don't understand why it is so difficult for courts to decide how to punish these people. Anyone who has that few brain cells should obviously not be driving at all. Why is it so difficult to charge them with murder when that is obviously what has happend? So in the end, who is the bigger idiot, the person who drives drunk repeatedly and kills someone or the court that can't decide to keep them in jail?
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