Please, don’t drink and drive

We don’t usually comment on court cases on Oahu, but the headline from a recent one caught our attention. This was the headline in Tuesday’s Star-Advertiser:

“Drunken driver gets probation for hit-and-run collision that killed moped rider”.

A first thought was, is that right? A drunken driver hit and killed a moped rider, left the scene and got probation? That can’t be right.

Turns out, it was.

According to a story by Star-Advertiser Reporter Nelson Daranciang, the driver, 48-year-old Jerry Putnam of Salt Lake, began serving a one-year jail term Monday for negligent homicide and fleeing the scene of a traffic collision.

The jail term is part of a five-year probation sentence handed down by a state judge.

“Circuit Judge Catherine Remigio ordered Putnam immediately taken into custody to begin serving the jail term. But, she is allowing him early release after 30 days,” the story says.

Remigio also revoked Putnam’s driver license and is prohibiting him from operating a vehicle while on probation. She ordered him to pay $1,210 into various state funds for crime victims and the treatment of traumatic injury, and $350 in court fees.

That sounds like a rather light penalty for driving drunk and causing a fatal accident. We’re not the only ones who were puzzled by this sentence.

Carol McNamee, founder of the Hawaii chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, called it “an abysmal message to send to the driving public” and said she “feels as though it minimizes MADD’s 35 years of work in Hawaii teaching people about the seriousness of drinking and driving.”

We don’t know all the details of the case, so perhaps there are other circumstances that came into play. Here, based on the Star-Advertiser story, is what we do know.

Paul Andrews was riding his moped east on Kapiolani Boulevard just before midnight May 26, 2017, when Putnam, driving in the opposite direction, turned left at Atkinson Drive and struck him. Andrews had just finished work at Nobu Honolulu restaurant and was on his way home to Waikiki.

Police said Andrews, 32, was thrown from the moped. A city ambulance took him to The Queen’s Medical Center in critical condition where he died three days later.

An Uber driver and passenger witnessed the collision and saw Putnam stop, get out of his car, look at the damage to his vehicle, then get back in and drive off. The Uber driver followed Putnam to his home in Salt Lake. Along the way the driver and passenger told police Putnam drove erratically, disregarding stop signs and traffic lights.

Putnam called 911 from his home and reported that he hit a moped at Atkinson Drive. Responding police officers smelled a strong odor of alcohol on Putnam’s breath and noticed that his eyes were red and watery and that his speech was slurred.

The officers administered a field sobriety test, which Putnam failed. He refused a breath test but agreed to have his blood tested; it contained 0.12 gram of alcohol per 100 milliliters. The legal threshold for drunken driving is 0.08 gram of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood.

Andrews’ widow, Lorenia Leyva-Andrews, claims in a state lawsuit that Putnam got drunk at Chez Sports Bar &Grill in Aiea.

An Oahu grand jury returned an indictment in October charging Putnam with first-degree negligent homicide and leaving the scene of a fatal traffic crash. Both charges are Class B felonies punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Putnam pleaded no contest to the charges in February. He asked Remigio to defer his pleas, giving him the opportunity to avoid conviction and to eventually clear the charges from his criminal record. State law, however, does not allow deferred pleas to charges involving the intentional, knowing, reckless or negligent killing of another person.

We all know that drinking and driving is a serious problem in this country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Every day, 29 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This is one death every 50 minutes. The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $44 billion.”

w In 2016, 10,497 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.

w Of the 1,233 traffic deaths among children ages 0 to 14 years in 2016, 214 (17%) involved an alcohol-impaired driver.

w In 2016, more than 1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.

MADD reported that in 2017, 9 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes during the day were drunk, compared to 32 percent at night. In addition, almost twice as many alcohol-related traffic fatalities occurred during the weekends compared to weekdays. It also reported that 50 to 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive on a suspended license.

We just repeated a lot of statistics and perhaps in this day and age we’ve become numb to statistics. We read them and say, “Oh well.” We just ask everyone to remember that behind these DUI numbers, are people. Men, women and children have been the victims of someone who chose to drink and drive. Lives have been lost and lives have been ruined by those who drink and drive. To state the obvious, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Paul Andrews was just driving home from work on May 26, 2017. He never made it because another person made the decision to drink, and then to drive. When will this stop?

This country is surprisingly tolerant, sometimes even defensive, of drinking and driving. It’s hard to understand why.

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