Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Drunk Driving Accident in West Ward Leaves Passenger Seriously Injured and Driver Facing Felony Assault Charges While Jeff Warren Retains His Seat on City Council

Posted by: Noël Jones

Colin McEvoy of the Express-Times reports that a woman was drinking and driving and speeding on December 23rd in the West Ward and crashed her car into two trees on the 1100 block of Bushkill Drive, seriously injuring her passenger. McEvoy notes that her blood alcohol level was 0.16, twice the legal limit of 0.08. She is now facing charges for felony aggravated assault. What's wrong with this story?

If you recall in my previous post about Easton City Councilman (and legislative aide to Senator Lisa Boscola) Jeff Warren, who heads the committee on Public Safety, he was busted for his second DUI last year with a blood alcohol level of 0.19 when he was stopped for speeding in Hellertown. The story in the paper said that because this was Warren's second offense, and therefore, a misdemeanor, if convicted, he would be forced to resign by City Council according to provisions in our Home Rule Charter. Note that his blood alcohol level was higher than the driver's described above, and that he too was speeding, and yet somehow it was only a possibility that he might be charged with a misdemeanor--not a felony.

You might say, well--no one was hurt in Warren's case--there was no accident. But I have to ask, if we have laws against drunk driving to prevent the kind of accident that sent this woman to the hospital, in the hopes that people will exercise good judgment before getting behind the wheel of a car when drunk and speeding, then what message does it send if we don't punish the bad decision unless someone gets hurt? Jeff Warren's judgment call was even worse than this woman's, because he was even more drunk when he decided to go speeding home in the middle of the night. And when the man heads up the committee for Public Safety for our city, and we haven't heard anything more about charges brought against him, what does that say to our residents, to see an elected official retain his seat after doing something so completely unsafe?

Under the banner of "Clean and Safe" it seems hypocritical to watch a resident get charged for drunk driving and speeding as a felony, while letting an elected official charged with drunk driving and speeding at a higher blood alcohol level continue to serve as the head of Public Safety. It sends a bad message. And if Warren doesn't have the decency to step down of his own accord, the mayor should ask him to resign.


David Caines said...

I must say I've been of two minds on the whole DUI thing for years now. Not that I don't think it's stupid and dangerous, but in the end it's just a form of reckless driving that targets those who drink.
I also have a bit of a problem with punishing people for something that might have happened, thankfully we do this pretty much only with drivers and only with alcohol.
In the end I really feel that a DUI should be a reckless driving charge and that the whole frenzy is less about safety and more about revenge. I mean we don't have a group called mothers against road head, or mothers against mothers screaming at their kids while talking on the cell phone.
On the other hand, yeah it's a damned stupid thing to do and should be punished under or existing reckless driving laws.
Still, as it relates to our local official, why hit the guy harder than any other citizen. If I'm a chef, I'm not going to lose my job over a DUI (unless I can't get to work because my license is suspended), same for the manager of the local WAWA or the manager of CACLV for that matter. SO no, I don't support yanking the mans job because he got a DUI. I think it was damned stupid of him, but if he does his job and does it well enough that we vote him back in...so be it.
I also don't support making a DUI into a misdemeanor, unless we're willing to extend regular criminal rights to DUI drivers. Giving them fifth amendment protections and Miranda protections like we would any other person charged with a misdemeanor crime. I feel this is just an end run around the constitution. If we can suspend a persons civil rights only because driving isn't a right, then it must stay a motor vehicle charge and nothing more.
Just my two cents,
Is the guy a bit of an idiot? Yeah.
Did he hurt anyone? No
Should he be held accountable for the fact that he might have?
He already has been, he's paying fines and losing his license and all of the other fun stuff that goes with the charge. I won't support punishing him more because he's a public figure. We might have elected the man, but we don't own him.

noel jones said...

The man is the head of Public Safety for the city. He has been busted for his second DUI. If the mayor thinks he can still be a decent councilman, that's one issue for debate. I personally vote for people because I trust their JUDGMENT, and getting behind the wheel with over twice the legal limit and speeding home is about the worst judgment call I can imagine. It could have killed or seriously injured someone.

But whether or not he stays on council and continues to work in Lisa Boscola's office is one thing--that he is an appropriate choice to head PUBLIC SAFETY is another. This is not a personal judgment of people who are fighting alcoholism--I know a lot of good people that fight it daily, it's about who leads our community. I think your idea of calling it all reckless driving might make sense, but in that case, I still wouldn't want someone twice charged with reckless driving to lead the community in PUBLIC SAFETY. It doesn't make sense.

And drunk driving laws are not about revenge, they are about providing a deterrent so that self-centered drunks don't risk the lives of others. It (clearly) doesn't work on everyone, but there are plenty of people who make the decision every day not to drive home drunk because they are afraid of getting arrested. If there were no penalty, there would be a lot more drunk drivers on the road, and when an elected official gets little more than a slap on the wrist, it sends the message that for special people there is no serious penalty.

David Caines said...

A question for me is , is he being treated any differently than anyone else who is on DUI number two?
Is he losing his license for less time? Paying less in fines?
And of course 2 DUI's over what period of time?
Still, I tend to judge a person by how they do the job, not their personal life.
And just a side question, are you really asking why this guy isn't being charged with a felony?
Seriously, limiting a persons job possibilities, changing his whole world for doing no harm to no one?
Because in the end, he didn't hit anyone, he didn't do harm he just might have.
If you are prepared to put him on a par with murderers, I can't follow the logic or even the emotion.
The man harmed no one, period. Had he, we'd be having a different argument.
And lets be honest, at this point, twenty years in, the DUI as a deterrent has failed. The numbers have barely changed, and there's no provable cause and effect as there never can be with maybe's.
Morning Noel , I need coffee.

tunsie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
noel jones said...

This comment emailed to me from Marty Jones:

"I gotta put my 2 cents in on drunk driving...... I work with a bunch of truck drivers. Driving is their profession. As such they are held to a higher standard than the rest of us. Their allowable BAC is half that of ours, or .04. Why should we not hold people like this councilman Jeff Warren who heads the committee on public safety to a higher standard?Or lawmakers in general who break the law? Maybe we're too used to having people with the right connections get away with crimes( that we would be locked up over) to care. Do as they say, not as they do!"

David Caines said...

Actually I don't really approve of that aspect of the CDL either. And of course this isn't a person who drives for a living.
I have had pretty good luck once I reached adulthood with listening to the occasionally great advise of maybe not so great people. I am of course like the rest of us seeking personal perfection, but as it looks boring I'm in no great rush. Still until I get there I think it's way more important to give the most value to the message, and the least to the messenger.
And to be fair, as a public figure he is going to receive the added punishment of public ridicule, I won't go so far as to say his political career is over....but it's probably on it's last leg and just having two DUI's closes a lot of jobs and careers to the man. I think if most of us looked at the deep impact and life changing nature of breaking this law, we'd repeal it. It is in the end the only American law which assumes guilt and executes punishment even if no harm has been done. The assumption of innocence that is the bedrock of all other American criminal law is just waved for this one.
In either case, the man is not getting a slap on the wrist, if you want blood at least be woman enough to admit it's some personal hatred. But to consider going outside of the bounds of law to further punish someone who will be tried and punished under the most un-American law on the books. I just can't go there with you. again, is it stupid? is it horrible? Yes to both.
Is he an idiot? Maybe, maybe he just drank to much, anyone who hasn't raise your hand.
I'll admit I'm shocked by your attitude in this post. To destroy (and prison not jail-a felony?) a man for doing no harm to no one?
You want to make it legal for me to shoot people who look at me funny, then maybe I can go there with you, but until then...
by the same standard I should at least be able to torture the idiot that leaves a dirty diaper on my lawn every few months. Or the idiot who eggs my car a couple of times a year...at least they have done some harm and to me...which from my POV makes it a bit more justified. can't say I haven't considered it, but I do have some sanity left to me.
However, we all have our personal passions,

Anonymous said...

Sal Panto says:
Noel you state that "If the mayor thinks he can still be a decent councilman, that's one issue for debate."

I don't know why I keep getting dragged into this debate. A City Council member does not work for the mayor. They are elected by the people and only the people can remove them from office or discipline them by not voting the next election should they choose to run.

My only involvement was that he confided in me and asked my advice. Unfortunately he chose to ignore my advice and handles it the way he feels comfortable.

My poisition publicly is what I stand by - as a member of council he is dedicated, works hard for the people and always researches the issues before voting. I have also said that in all the times I have been in his company publicly I have not seen him drink to excess if at all.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to voice my position.

noel jones said...

Thanks for posting, Mayor.

Will said...

Contrary to your headline, there is really no such thing as a drunk driving "accident". I have has more than one acquaintance killed by drunk drivers so I am biased. But I think I would feel the same way regardless.

On a related note, I just wrote about the photo-op Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took part in. Supposedly publicizing a new device to stop drunks from starting their cars. Read between the lines and you will see the absurdity in that story. When will we get serious with technology that will work to stop the carnage? Our current law enforcement approach sure does not work.