High costs associated with DUIs 'meant to be a deterrent' (w/ video)

High costs associated with DUIs 'meant to be a deterrent' (w/ video)

It's been 364 days since Eric Brady lost his wife to a drunk driver. Esteban Tomas, 33, plowed into the passenger side of Jeannie Brady's car about one hour into the new year as she was heading home to Mahomet on Interstate 74.

Within a few minutes, she was dead and Brady's life was forever changed.

"I've had plenty of time to think about this," Brady said as the anniversary approached, choosing his words carefully but expressing his frustration. "There are things I've accepted. And I've learned to not get stuck, which is very easy to do. Still, this sucks."

Mrs. Brady's life is one of hundreds ended every year from alcohol-related crashes. In 2015, 268 of the 998 crash fatalities in Illinois were a result of drunken driving.

Police try to stop drunken drivers before it comes to that, setting up checkpoints and patrols around high-traffic times like tonight.

More than 35,000 people are arrested yearly for driving under the influence in Illinois.

In Champaign County alone, police have made almost 400 DUI arrests in 2017, a number that hasn't changed much in five years but has declined significantly since the 1980s, according to state data.

The same can be said of surrounding counties:

— In Douglas, a county with just under 20,000 residents, sheriff's deputies made 44, 34, 43 and 35 DUI arrests from 2014 to 2017, respectively.

— In Piatt and Ford counties, the numbers run between 30 and 50 arrests.

— Vermilion County saw only a slight change over the same five years, with 27, 41, 31, 38 and 24 arrests by the sheriff's department.

Drug-related DUIs are less common, but their numbers have remained steady, too.

In Ford and Piatt, the number rarely exceeds 10 in a year; in Champaign and Urbana, the totals have remained in the teens and 20s.

Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz said she hopes the overall decline comes from a conscious effort to educate people about the dangers of drinking and driving.

The popularization of ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft, she said, could account for the slight decline in arrests, as people have more options to get home.

As to why the numbers over the past five years have remained so steady, she said a decrease in overall traffic enforcement could be a reason, as many police departments don't have the resources to focus specifically on finding impaired drivers.

Sheriffs David Hunt of Piatt County and Gregg Dixon of Douglas County both said their deputies remain committed to stopping drunk drivers.

"There's no way to keep that person out of the vehicle," Dixon said. "If they intend to drive intoxicated, you're going to find them doing that. You know, we're not sitting outside bars (or) outside parking lots."

If there was an increase in DUIs, Dixon said he'd have his deputies step up enforcement.

But by and large, local attorneys, police and other law enforcement officials say they don't understand how the cost of a DUI alone isn't enough to deter anyone from drinking and driving. That and the repercussions.

A hike in insurance rates, legal fees, court costs, possible income loss, rehabilitation, driver's license reinstatement fees and the installation of a blood-alcohol ignition interlock device (BAIID) could end up costing a first-time DUI offender as much as $14,000.

35 arrests and counting

It all starts with shining red and blue lights. Hunt said that from the moment an officer turns them on, the driver ahead is being analyzed for possible signs of intoxication.

Heading into New Year's weekend, his department had made 35 DUI arrests for the year. That number has stayed fairly consistent in Piatt County since 2013, with the exception of 2016, when there were 50.

Whether it be for a safety check, probable cause, reasonable suspicion or unusual driving, the officer will stop the car and ask for the driver's license, registration and proof of insurance. Field sobriety tests come after that.

If the officer has probable cause following those tests, the driver is arrested for DUI and taken to the police station for breath and bodily substance tests.

Refusal means the driver's license will be suspended by the secretary of state's office under a statutory summary suspension for a year, though options exist to drive legally again.

Drivers with blood-alcohol concentration levels between .05 and .08 — or a low enough level of THC, the chemical compound in cannabis — are likely to walk away, though the DUI charge will stay on record until action by the court.

In Illinois, a motorist is presumed intoxicated if his or her blood alcohol level is measured at .08 percent.

Test above the limit of presumed impairment, and the driver is looking at a suspended license for six months, following a 45-day grace period. Suspensions could last between the minimum of six months and three years depending on the charges, but drivers can request judicial hearings.

Towing and storage fees, and other immediate costs, start the total bill for a DUI at over $250. Then come legal and court fees.

In Champaign County

Matthew Lee, the defense attorney who handles the bulk of the DUI cases for the Champaign law firm of Meyer Capel, said people need to be aware of the high cost of a DUI case.

"Unfortunately, there's no way to avoid high-cost cases," Lee said of the large minimum fines imposed by the state, about $3,500 when it's all said and done. "They're meant to be a deterrent so you think twice."

He explained that DUIs can be "critically complicated" cases, and lawyers often require flat fees that will likely not come in under $1,000. There are testimonials, scientific evidence, blood and urine results, breath results, and gauging whether they were all properly administered.

And then there's the civil side of things, such as getting a license back after suspension.

"It's a lot of work to properly defend someone," he said.

His job, he said, is to make sure his client is charged "proportionally and accurately" in a county where strict punishments for DUIs have long been the norm.

In Champaign County, said Rietz, the policy is generally not to reduce DUI charges to reckless driving or to give court supervision until a sentencing hearing before a judge. And there are strict guidelines for considering court supervision, which enables an offender to escape the entry of a conviction on his record.

"It's our philosophy, I guess you could say," Rietz said. "Champaign County has always been very aggressive. But the end goal is justice and to hold people accountable for their actions. It's not something that's going to be tolerated in Champaign."

Severe consequences

Right off the bat, a driver's first conviction could mean a class A misdemeanor, a year without a license, vehicle registration suspension, a minimum fine of $500, and 100 hours of community service if committed with a blood-alcohol level higher than 0.16 percent.

Punishments and fines become harsher with multiple DUI convictions. A repeat offender faces felony charges and mandatory imprisonment after a third conviction, as well as fines of up to $2,500 and court costs that add at least $1,000 more.

There also are costs for high-risk insurance rates — a minimum of $2,000 per year for three years — and more costs for rehabilitation.

Getting your license back also costs money, about $500 plus $80 in associated fees. Court supervision often comes with the costs of a BAIID, which can add another $1,400 for installation, rental and monitoring fees.

There are additional costs associated with injuries or fatalities in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But above all, Eric Brady said, the cost of a human life is the highest.

'You just lose faith'

Brady said the past year has given him time to accept a few things about his wife's death. But he won't have full closure until Tomas faces the consequences of his actions.

After the collision, Mrs. Brady and Tomas were taken to Carle Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Tomas left the hospital with a broken arm and a notice to appear in court for a DUI and not having a valid driver's license.

He never showed up for his court date, and police believe he may be out of the country.

In late September, the state's attorney's office filed two new charges against Tomas for reckless homicide, in hopes it could extradite him if he's found.

Ever since, the updates fell off, and there is nothing Brady can do now but wait.

"It's out of our hands," he said.

He voiced his frustration at the way state police handled his wife's case and questioned whether their training is adequate.

"You want to be angry at that person who got behind the wheel drunk," he said. "But how can you not be angry at the person who you entrust with your safety that allowed the man to go free? You just lose faith."

Brady himself was arrested for a DUI in the 1990s. He said he thought the laws were strict then. He's not sure stricter laws will fix the problem.

"There is a significant difference in awareness to drunken driving, but for it not to have an impact on the numbers today means maybe we need to look at another approach," he said.

"I want them to do something so that at least nobody has to live life like I do. You know, make a change and uphold it. That's the best I can ask for, really. Because there's nothing else."

This is what happens when you get a DUI

Meet John Doe, 21, who didn't have as much as a speeding ticket on his record until he was pulled over by police for swerving in and out of his lane on the way home. He failed field sobriety tests and was found to have a blood-alcohol concentration level of 0.09, just over the 0.08 legal limit. After debating the circumstances of his case with his legal counsel, he decided to plead guilty and now faces the state's consequences. Here's what comes next:

1. He is hit with a Class A misdemeanor that will remain on his record — permanently.

2. His driving privileges are suspended for six months, though he's eligible for a Monitoring Device Driving Permit, which means a Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device will be placed in his car. But not before he pays $100 for installation and agrees to other fees — $80 a month to rent it and another $30 a month for monitoring.

3. His vehicle registration is suspended.

4. He'll have to carry high-risk auto insurance for three years at an annual cost of about $2,000.

5. He's required to complete an alcohol evaluation that can run up to $200.

6. He must take an alcohol remedial education course or substance-abuse treatment program.

Third strike: Felony follows you forever

Meet Jane Smith, 33, who already had two DUI convictions on her record when she was stopped for running a red light on her way home from the bars. She failed field sobriety tests and was found to have a blood-alcohol concentration level of 0.16. Her third strike means this is classified as an aggravated DUI, which comes with far steeper penalties than her first two. Here's a summary of the consequences:

1. She will be charged with a Class 2 felony that will never go away. So, if she ever applies for another job, she'll have to check the "yes" box when asked if she's ever been convicted of a felony.

2. Her driving privileges will be revoked for a minimum of 10 years.

3. Her vehicle registration will be suspended.

4. Because her BAC was at least twice the legal limit in Illinois, she must spend a mandatory 90 days in jail and pay a minimum fine of $2,500.

5. She'll be required to complete an alcohol evaluation that can cost up to $200.

6. She'll likely have a tough time finding an affordable counseling program, as many treatment centers charge more for a high-risk patient. At Accent Counseling in Champaign, she could pay upwards of $2,000 for evaluations, education and counseling.

The bill: $14,000

Spending a few bucks on a cab or ride-hailing service is a far smarter investment than what you'll shell out for a first DUI conviction. Here's a list of expenses, culled from data in the 2017 Illinois DUI factbook and interviews with representatives of four local rehab centers and two law offices:

INSURANCE: $6,000

That's over three years, the minimum amount you'll pay in the high-risk category.

LEGAL/COURT FEES: $5,550

That covers fines (up to $2,500), the uncontested plea ($2,000 on average), court costs ($750), towing/storage ($250 or more) and a hardship driving permit ($50)..

REHAB: $40 to $450

A DUI evaluation can run as high as $200. The required risk education course costs anywhere between $40 and $250. And further group or solo counseling sessions can run up costs by hundreds of dollars.

DRIVER'S LICENSE: $580

You'll pay $500 to have it reinstated and $80 in related fees.

CAR BREATHALYZER: $1,420

It's $960 a year to rent, $360 a year for law enforcement to monitor every breath test via camera before the ignition is unlocked, and $100 to have installed.

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rsp wrote on December 31, 2017 at 8:12 am

1. She will be charged with a Class 2 felony that will never go away. So, if she ever applies for another job, she'll have to check the "yes" box when asked if she's ever been convicted of a felony.

No she won't. We banned the box on applications. However, "she" can be asked about it during the interview. So can "he".

Kjacks wrote on December 31, 2017 at 9:12 am

Wow....decent info even if it is a bit off.

First off, don't kid the tax payers in Piatt County. It's hard to "remain committed to stopping drunk drivers" with only one person working the rural area of the county. According to the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, Piatt County used to make 80 arrests for dui, even as recently as 2012 (the sheriff didn't provide them numbers for 2013). The reason they are down to 35 is because, a lot of the time, there is only one deputy working a shift. That deputy is probably told to stay around Monticello so the rest of the county isn't being patrolled unless they have a local officer. We aren't being protected by the drunk drivers in the north end of the county.

This was brought up by another person running for sheriff and Sheriff Hunt threw his staff under the bus (it was also brought up with the sheriff's "morale survey" but that and other issues are another story). After throwing a fit on Facebook, he didnt take responsibility for what happened at his department and failed to correct the issue. He claimed that he voiced his concerns, but it sounds like he was not a leader and did not want to work to find a solution. Its your office, you should know whats going on there. Either you knew what was going on and didn't care or were very out of touch with what's going on in your own office (and you only care now because its an election year).

Second, the states attorney usually drops any felony down in the plea deal. Dont kid yourself that felonies get charged immediately. A friend that works in the twin cities told me that they usually have to finish the report and send it to the states attorney and they decide if tbey will go with a felony charge. If it was done the right way, Mrs. Brady's killer would be in jail instead of being released by the state police.

Reitz can try to put the blame on the state police, but its her office's past practices that help put the driver back on the street.

Happy new year, dont drink and drive.

yates wrote on December 31, 2017 at 2:12 pm

The high cost of a DUI is like the high cost of a pack of cigarettes. It's meant to make money as much as protect lives. They do deter some smoking and drunk driving, but whats wrong with raking in some cash too...

rsp wrote on December 31, 2017 at 7:12 pm

What some seem to be leaving out of their posts was that the crash involving Tomas was still under investigation when he was released from the hospital. Because of the severity of the crash they did not know which car was going which way at the time. There were even posts at the time saying the police should have known she was coming from work. Police aren't mindreaders. They did not expect Tomas to be released so quickly. Policies have been changed so this does not happen in the future.

I know there are people who like to blame Rietz for everything including if it rains but she had nothing to do with him walking away.

Local Yocal wrote on January 01, 2018 at 2:01 pm
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"In Champaign County alone, police have made almost 400 DUI arrests in 2017, a number that hasn't changed much in five years..."

So the high cost of a DUI has not been a deterrent.

GLG wrote on January 02, 2018 at 9:01 am

"Policies have been changed so this does not happen in the future."


Are you the State Police?   Would you care to tell us what policy changes have been made?

ISP has been pretty quiet about the whole case.

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