This past Christmas was the worst ever for Vincent Baldini.

But he figures Christmas was nothing compared with how bad April 1 will be. The day with the silly name would have been his great-nephew Jacob Gamble’s ninth birthday.

Then Baldini and his family will have to gird themselves for Aug. 5.

“Obviously,” said Baldini, “that’s the worst day in all our lives.”

Tougher Montana drunken driving laws won’t ease the pain of that date. But they’ll make Baldini feel that Jacob’s death wasn’t entirely in vain.

Last Aug. 5, Jacob, his little brother Eli, their mom and stepdad, along with their two dogs, were heading east on Interstate 90 near Clinton, traveling through the night from their home outside Seattle toward a rendezvous with family in Yellowstone National Park. It was 4:30 a.m.

Daniel Martin had just swiped a red pickup from the Rock Creek Lodge, where the annual Testicle Festival was in full swing, and pulled onto the interstate – in the wrong direction. Both Martin and Jacob died when the pickup crashed into the Gamble family’s Honda.

Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Andrew Novak, who responded to the crash, recalled that Martin “reeked of alcohol.”

Despite his fury with those who drive drunk and take innocent lives, said Baldini, “I would gladly give that driver’s life back to have Jacob back.”

Lacking that, here’s what he’d like to see: A Montana Legislature mindful that the need to crack down on the problem of impaired driving didn’t end with the laws that were passed in 2011, when DUI was a key focus of lawmakers.

It’s different this year, a situation some activists attribute to “DUI fatigue.” Certainly, only a handful of bills submitted so far deal directly with impaired driving.

“If they’re tired of talking about DUI legislation, then are they going to be tired of reading stories like the one that happened to Jacob?” Baldini wondered. “Are they going to be so callous that they’re going to read that article (about yet another DUI fatality) and say, ‘Well, it happens. I’m glad it wasn’t my child or grandchild.’ ”

Becky Sturdevant of Kalispell lost her son, Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Evan Schneider, to a drunken driver in 2008. Sturdevant said she’s heard the “DUI fatigue” phrase, but cautioned that the 2013 session is young.

“We had some great success” in 2011, Sturdevant said. “We should be able to make some progress” in 2013.

***

The most notable success in 2011 was the passage of the “24/7” law that requires repeat DUI offenders to submit to breath tests twice a day, at their own expense. (Ankle bracelets that react to alcohol use are options, albeit more expensive ones, for people who live far from testing centers.)

Before 24/7, those convicted of DUI who continued to drink – let alone drive – suffered consequences only if they were caught, said Maj. Tom Butler of the Montana Highway Patrol.

With 24/7, the consequences are immediate: Skip a test, get a warrant. Blow “hot,” go to jail.

The program became law under the watch of then-Attorney General Steve Bullock, who heavily promoted it. Now governor, Bullock noted last week that of the 157,000 tests administered under 24/7 during the past 15 months, 99.7 percent showed that the offender hadn’t had a single drink.

Such results are so promising that there’s a move to apply the 24/7 concept to other crimes, such as domestic abuse, where alcohol is a frequent factor, Butler said.

“Unfortunately, alcohol is a root cause of a significant number of law enforcement calls,” he said.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Lavin, R-Kalispell, adds drug monitoring to the 24/7 program, one of a number of measures that deal with impaired driving involving substances other than alcohol.

And it applies 24/7 to anyone “charged with any crime in which the abuse of alcohol or dangerous drugs was a contributing factor in the commission of the crime.” The bill had its first reading in the House on Jan. 17.

A bill by Rep. Champ Edmunds, R-Missoula, would mandate special orange license plates with “DUI” on them for people convicted of DUI or those who refuse a breath test. (A law passed in 2011 authorizes mandatory blood tests of people arrested for a second or subsequent DUI who refuse to blow.)

New Attorney General Tim Fox backs legislation that would charge people with second DUIs – and therefore subject to mandatory blood tests if they refuse a breath test – no matter how long ago their first DUI occurred. People now are charged, again, with a first DUI, if a prior DUI was more than five years earlier, according to his office.

And one sponsored by Rep. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, makes the 13-month treatment sentence common for felony DUI convictions mandatory, and raises the maximum sentence in such cases from five to 10 years.

***

Baldini likes that sort of philosophy.

He’s heard the arguments that personal responsibility is the way to fight impaired driving. “But people who get behind the wheel drunk, and drive time after time after time, they’ve demonstrated by the way they live their lives that they don’t understand that,” he said. “So then it becomes society’s goal to educate these people one way or the other, either by incarcerating them or taking their license.”

He urges Montana lawmakers to approve the tougher sanctions. “It’s their job to protect the citizens of Montana and the people who travel through their state. They can’t be tired of looking at this ... not with that terrible, terrible, terrible possibility that this could happen again.”

Missoulian reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio@missoulian.com, or @CopsAndCourts.

(11) comments

mtroyal
mtroyal

I favor a more direct approach. For example, you fine a DUI 800$, that hurts his wife and kids. Why not require public service a few hours a week for the next three years? That doesn't hurt the wife and kids. Put him in jail for a week, does he lose his job? Maybe requre him to go to a minimum security spot a few hours a week for a few months. All these Jail, fines, DUI schools may be adding unnecessarily to the welfare system and increasing the divorce rate. Restrict his driving for the next 5 years.

What gets me is that there is a legislator somewhere, planning to run for governor, saying to himself "let see, I am running for governor, what can I do to get votes? Oh yes, I will introduce DUI legislation and use that in my commercials-Vote for me, I got tough with drunk drivers.

noliberal
noliberal

People convicted of DUI should be required to have a breathalizer installed on their vehicles. The technology is there and they should be required to pay for it if they wish to drive.

Jail
Jail

While driving these days, I'm more afraid of people who text while drive than someone who is drinking and driving. I've had several instances while driving where a car, approaching head on, drifts completely into my lane. They correct back to their lane and I hug the shoulder of my lane. When we pass, they are still heads down staring at their phone, and drifting back and forth in their lane.

libertarian
libertarian

We do have enough laws on the books already. This DUI thing is becoming more about revenue enhancement then getting those who would harm us off the road. Let's enforce the laws on the books.

MontanaJim72
MontanaJim72

Orange colored license plates that say DUI on them for offenders? It will never happen. The bright orange color emanating from the state capitol parking lots during legislative sessions would be blinding.

Zelph
Zelph

There is nothing wrong with drinking alcoholic beverages. Many countries have no problem with this and in a number of cases it has health benefits.
Drinking to excess and alcohol abuse is the problem.
How about "Not a Drop" for driving? That way no one would question whether they are able to drive after a few drinks and would know that they were liable to be arrested if caught.
We see "Not a Drop" for underage drivers, why not for everyone?
People could still have a glass of wine or a beer but would need to wait longer to drive or have a designated driver or other transportation.

John P Weber
John P Weber

Our lesgislatures, are afriad they will get caught up in tougher DUI laws, which is why they dont do a blasted thing to rein the murdering terrisiots who druve drunk. I am calling these people terrisiots vecause they lack the ability, when sober, to know they have a problem. And it does not matter if they are born in Montana or move here from out of state. Drunks need a tougher sentenceing guideline, such as 10 years minimum sentce in prison for first offense, half suspended to give them a chance to change. Plus DL revoked for 15 years and car/truck impounded and sold wit hthe money going to any victim or victims family. Caught a second time, 20 years minimum setnece, no parole for 18 years. And a hefty fine, $100,000 plus restition to the family of anyone they hit inure or kill. Time to get the dummies off the road. And anyone caught driving while drunk anytime after the second offense, life in prison. Where the person would die.

Rob C
Rob C

10 years in prison for blowing in a tube? Or 10 years in prison for taking sleeping pills, talking on a cell phone and driving up on a sidewalk killing someone? I guess its exactly the same to you, and I also suppose you think that alcohol has the exact same effect on every living being. I hope you aren't in any kind of authority situation because you clearly have control issues. DUI should be written and enforced when someone loses their ability to control their vehicle, not just because its an easy ticket to write and nearly impossible to defend. When it snows, hundreds of people wreck their cars, yet nobody is calling for criminal charges against the people who can't drive in snow. 157,000 tests to keep people from drinking, yet we ignore the fact that 75% of deaths in cars have nothing to do with alcohol? Why don't we make cars harder to obtain, they are involved in 100% of car accident fatalities. Thousands upon thousands of people drink and then drive everyday, responsibly. Basing laws on emotional tragedies is bad legislation and more dangerous to our society than and drunk driver will ever be.

F Moh
F Moh

Yeah - cause prohibition worked SO WELL last time we tried it.

Face it - people drink. Just cause you don't, doesn't change that fact.

And 99% of people drink responsibly. Just cause the news makes more money out of stirring up emotions on the rare occasions that tragedy happens doesn't change that fact either.

So unless you are prepared to have your tax rate be 75% of what you make - so that half the citizens can be put in jail or on welfare because their breadwinner is in jail - it's time to just start accepting the facts.

Punish the guilty. Not the "could be guilty".

frazzle
frazzle

time to bring back proabition,beverage companys and distributors are nothing but drug cartel's.

Roger
Roger

People would still make home-brewed alcoholic beverages, and underground bars might appear - but eliminating bars and saloons could possibly have a beneficial effect in these modern times. And alcohol-saturated events like the Rock Creek Test*cal Festival, where hordes of drunken drivers are unleashed on the roads and highways, should be banned.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.