Wednesday, March 03, 1999

Alcohol-suspected car crashes on increase




BY TOM O'NEILL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

walters
Mark Walters
... 5 DUI convictions;
hit boy on bike
        A sliver of hope has emerged from the horrific series of alcohol-suspected crashes that have claimed five Greater Cincinnati lives and shined a spotlight on repeat offenders and the laws designed to stop them.

        The good news: Joshua Kostreva got a little better Tuesday.

        The 12-year-old Symmes Township boy, struck while riding his bicycle Tuesday nightalong Fields Ertel Road, was upgraded to serious condition Tuesday at Children's Hospital Medical Center. He had been listed in critical condition.

        Mark Walters, 36, of Lebanon, a five-time DUI convict accused of striking Joshua, was arraigned Tuesday in Hamilton County Court and held on $500,000 bond. He is charged with aggravated vehicular assault and failure to comply.

        Police suspect alcohol was involved and tests are under way. Mr. Walters led police on a chase for several miles before he was apprehended on Interstate 71.

        His DUI convictions are: 1982 in Butler County, 1984 and 1986 in Hamilton County, and 1985 and 1991 in Warren County. Hamilton County prosecutors said Tuesday that Mr. Walters served 10 and 14 days in jail, respectively, for his two convictions there. They added they have no evidence of other DUI convictions that resulted in jail time.

        In reaction to the recent spate of alcohol-related crashes, Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said he will send a letter to state legislators urging them to enact a tougher law for multiple DUI offenders.

        “For some of these guys, treatment is just not going to work,” Mr. Allen said. “All you can do is get them off the road and warehouse them in a detention facility for as long as you possibly can.”

        According to statistics from the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS), the number of DUI convictions increased in Hamilton, Clermont, Butler and Warren counties in 1997, the most recent year statistics are available.

        That increase stopped a three-year general trend in which the number of DUI convictions had fallen in those counties.

        The rise is troubling and its exact causes unclear, according to David Cooke of the ODPS.

        “Your urban crashes (in Greater Cincinnati) are higher than rural, and usually that's the other way around,” he said.

        Clermont County Prosecutor Daniel “Woody” Breyer said Tuesday rural areas typically have more winding roads that are not well-lighted, and the lack of neighborhood bars means residents who leave their homes to drink must drive to do so.

        While the debate continues, two other victims of DUI-suspected crashes, men from Union Township in Clermont County and Alexandria, Ky., remain hospitalized.

        The four recent alcohol-suspected crashes, including two in Clermont County, have left five people dead since Friday night.

        Only the suspect, Charles Gumbert, 38, of New Richmond, survived the Friday night crash involving three members of the Shannon family of Ohio Township. The couple and their 11-year-old son were killed. Two other children werenot with them.

        Mr. Gumbert, who remains in Clermont County Jail on $1 million bond, is a four-time DUI convict. A blood sample was taken from him by search warrant after he refused to submit to a Breathalyzer alcohol-test.

        Mr. Gumbert had his first driving under the influence conviction in 1983. A subsequent conviction resulted in three days in jail.

        The victims' relatives stood outside Clermont County Municipal Court following his bond hearing Monday and implored the public to write legislators about the need for stricter DUI penalties.

        But many in legal circles say some current laws are insufficient, and that others are sometimes counterproductive.

        Stricter DUI laws “usually wind up being horrible trouble for the first-timers,” Mr. Breyer said Tuesday. “These guys (repeat DUI offenders), it doesn't matter. They're going to do it again.”

        Still, he said, echoing the sentiments of Shannon family relatives, “the argument is that at least while they're in jail, the public is protected, and that's true.”

        Mr. Gumbert in June was convicted of failing to comply with a police order to stop. Additional charges of reckless driving and not having a valid license were dismissed, but not by prosecutors' discretion. And because he was not immediately apprehended, police couldn't determine whether he was drunk.

        Mr. Breyer pointed out that a 1997 law change requires that the sentence of lesser charges in some cases run concurrently with the more serious charge, so the dismissal had no factor in Mr. Gumbert's sentence, which turned out to be 90 days.

        Additionally, he explained, “the law presumes that 4th- and 5th-degree felonies don't go to jail.”

        Still, had Mr. Gumbert received the maximum sentence of 18 months in the fleeing case last year, he would have been in jail Friday.

        “A guy like Gumbert,” Mr. Breyer said, “he shouldn't have been out of jail.”

        Dan Horn contributed to this report.

ENQUIRER EDITORIAL: Zero tolerance for repeat offenders



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