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Low OVI conviction rate not an encouraging sign



Published: Sat, October 6, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

The horrific traffic accident that claimed the lives of a Newton Falls couple, Jamie and Emily Danes, has turned the spotlight on the conviction rate of intoxicated drivers in the courts in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

Why? Because Jamie, 37, and Emily, 29, were killed when their Chevrolet Impala, was struck head on by a 1997 Cadillac driven by 42-year-old Paul Wodianka of Diamond. They were returning home from Niles where they had celebrated their wedding anniversary with dinner and a movie. They are survived by an 8-year-old son.

Wodianka was seriously injured and taken to St. Elizabeth Health Center. The state patrol has taken a blood sample and will determine if he was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Wodianka has a lengthy drunken driving record, which is why the director of a nonprofit organization that tracks intoxicated drivers has issued a searing indictment of the local courts.

Andrea Pavanti, who heads the Mahoning County TASC (Treatment Alternatives to Street Crime), contended that the two counties have a “bad reputation” in some circles for low OVI conviction rates. She did not specify the circles to a Vindicator reporter. But she did say that lawyers have told her “this same thing doesn’t happen in Columbus or other areas of the state.”

But it is her next statement that should prompt area residents to demand an explanation from those involved in the criminal justice system.

“It’s unique to this area,” Pavanti said of the comparatively low OVI conviction rate in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

As a result, the director, who has been watching the criminal justice system for a decade, gives most of the courts a failing grade.

A review of the OVI convictions in 2010 in the Valley shows a 52 percent rate in Mahoning County, 65 percent in Trumbull and 83 percent in Columbiana.

“We want high-tier [high concentrations of alcohol] and multiple-DUI offenders to have more accountability for their actions than just three-day DUI schools,” Paventi said.

A 2004 state law requires a mandatory prison sentence for anyone with five or more convictions in a 20-year period. It also establishes increased penalties for OVI offenders who refuse a chemical or Breathalyzer test if they have more than one prior OVI conviction.

Jail space

Paventi acknowledges that in Mahoning County, the lack of jail space may explain the low incarceration rate, but she also points out that the reopening the misdemeanant facility near the county jail is a solution.

Local officials will undoubtedly argue that the lack of funds affects their ability to incarcerate all the offenders who deserve to be behind bars. But Pavanti believes that the law breakers could be required to pay for their stays.

It’s an idea worth considering.

If Mahoning and Trumbull counties have such a poor record of putting away drunken drivers like Wodianka with numerous violations, is it because prosecutors and judges are soft on such crimes?

Now that this issue is front and center because of the deaths of Jamie and Emily Danes and Wodianka’s background, the public should hear from those involved in the criminal justice system.


Comments

1kurtw(864 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

The only way to stop a drunk from using a motor vehicle in his/her possession is to make it physically impossible for them to do so.

Technology now exists to include a breathalyzer in a vehicle's ignition system- in other words you blow in and unless you pass- the vehicle will not start.

I know. Suggest that to the average driver and hear them howl: "Why should I be inconvenienced- I'm not a drunk, etc. etc Why should I have to blow into a god-damned tube to start my own car!"

Remember when seat belt laws were passed? It was the same argument- Infringement of personal liberty, etc. etc." Why should I have to wear a god-damned seat belt in my own car, if I don't want to etc., etc.". There's a difference: seat belts (like motorcycle helmet laws) concern mostly the personal safety of the operator, here there is an overriding public safety concern.

I repeat: Experience shows, There is NO way to stop a drunk- no matter how much you punish them- from operating a motor vehicle in their possession unless you make it impossible for them to do so. They will go on drving until they kill someone, as your editorial, tragically, describes. A drunk has about the same level of self control and discipline as a child- and we do not allow children to have access to motor vehicles.

It needs to be stopped and I think a genuine public service on the part of the Vindicator would be to call for the mandatory inclusion of breathalyzer/ignition devices on all new vehicles- and, possibly, retro-fitting older vehicles as well. That would do more to save lives than the harshest punishments for drunken drivers available to us (other than just simply taking chronic offenders aside and quietly shooting them; that would stop them from driving again and it would be highly cost-effective- one well-directed bullet would normally do the job. But, I guess we can't do that- much as we would like to.)

Finally, to protect the system from tampering, I think Ohio should have yearly vehicle inspections as in Pa.. That way if somebody tried to disable the breathalyzer system, it would be easily detected and result in two actions for the offending driver: A: Immediate Suspension of driving privileges, and B: Impoundment and forfeiture of the vehicle.

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2NoBS(1940 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

Kurt, along a similar line of thinking, I'd suggest a repeat DUI offender should, say, after the 3rd or 4th DUI, have the word "DRUNK" tattooed on his/her forehead. People so marked would be forbidden from driving a vehicle not equipped with one of those breathalyzer devices. If you allow your tattooed habitual-drunk brother in law to borrow your non-breathalyzer-equipped car, and that car is involved in a wreck, YOU are liable too. YOU do the same time and pay the same penalties the drunk does. That way, the law-abiding are not punished for the sins of the lawbreakers.

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3jeepers(127 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

As someone that does not drink or take drugs-you can pay for my breathalizer on my car. In this perfect world that you expect from your government, there will be no need for ANY personal accountability. Also, technicians wil be able to bypass these devices for any alcoholic who will pay, thus making hundreds of thousands of us waste money on a false sense of security. Kurt, I don't know how old you are, but you have the government mind-set that all risks in life can be legislated/taxed away. Maybe in your perfect world-please stay out of mine.

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