December 09, 2002 11:00 pm

Tougher laws, sentences needed

It's time that Oregon's legislative leadership start dealing with drunk drivers seriously. Are you listening, Speaker of the House Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village, and Senate Majority Leader David Nelson, R-Pendleton? Pass some legislation that will start dealing with drunk drivers seriously. Too many people on Oregon's highways have been killed by these despicable individuals and it is time to stop the carnage.

Half of the traffic fatalities each year are caused by people who get drunk or stoned, get in a vehicle and drive down the road. Most have been cited numerous times for drunk driving and/or suspended licenses, but they just keep on driving.

Last week, Christopher Bennett was sentenced to 178 months in prison for the vehicular murder of Debra Holtzheimer. That is a little less than 15 years for another person's life.

How many times had Bennett been cited for drunken driving? The 34-year-old from Southeast Portland had accumulated four drunken-driving convictions, 20 tickets for driving with a suspended license and 14 moving violations. And when he was arrested for the murder of Holtzheimer, his blood alcohol level was at .22, nearly three times the legal limit. Bennett had consumed a fifth of whiskey, smoked marijuana and snorted methamphetamine. Isn't that sick?

For over a decade the public has been demanding that legislators get serious about the destructive path drunk drivers have created. It is time that soft-on-crime legislators get tough and write some laws that will throw the book at people who drink and drive. There is no excuse for these individuals to be allowed to continue driving, with or without a license. They should be thrown in jail every hour of the day they aren't working to earn money to pay for their misdeeds. The fines should be so large that they don't have time to do anything but work at two or three jobs just to pay for their crimes.

No family should have to put up with the grief created by individuals who cannot be disciplined enough to control their intoxicating habits. If they want to drink in excess they need to stay at home and lock themselves in a room. They shouldn't get in a vehicle and turn someone else's life upside down.

We don't want to hear any more excuses from legislators. They need to show they really care about the communities they represent by making life miserable for those who would drink and drive and kill.