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Lower alcohol limit not on fast track in Wisconsin

By Theo Keith, tkeith@wisctv.com
Published On: May 15 2013 07:56:43 AM CDT

MADISON, Wis. -

Lowering the legal blood-alcohol level, recommended Tuesday by a national agency, is not on tap in beer-loving Wisconsin.

While an OWI bill closing a loophole for seven-time offenders passed the state Assembly on Tuesday, lawmakers' focus remains on legislation strengthening current law instead of lowering the limit, said Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon.

"My concern is that we increase the penalties for the blood-alcohol content levels we have now, because we have so many repeat offenders," Ott said.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended that states lower their legal limits from 0.08 to 0.05. The agency has no legal authority and it remains up to states to adopt their own requirements.

The NTSB estimated lowering the limit would save 500 to 800 lives a year.

About 200 people die in Wisconsin every year because of drunken-driving crashes, and Sue and Fritz Dohm's son was part of that statistic in 2011.

"I think (lowering the limit) is a really good idea," said Sue Dohm. The Prairie du Sac couple's son Davi was a passenger in a car whose driver was drunk and crashed into a tree in Fitchburg.

The Dohms said they are focused on imposing a mandatory minimum sentence on drunk drivers who kill people.

Chad Spurley, the car's driver, pleaded no contest to homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and is serving three-and-a-half years in prison, Sue Dohm said.

Mandatory minimum sentences is part of a package of bills planned for the fall, Ott said.

The measures include mandatory minimum sentences in OWI homicide cases, making a third OWI offense a felony, and requiring a court appearance for a first offense.

Paul Jenkins of Mequon said he blames current Wisconsin law for killing his daughter and granddaughter, and injuring his grandson.

A judge gave a man convicted of a third-offense OWI a few days to get his affairs in order before going to jail, and the man caused the fatal crash in the meantime, Jenkins said.

Jenkins said he, too, would like to eventually see the legal limit lowered to 0.05.

"Like in everything else it's forced to do in regards to alcohol, (Wisconsin) will be the last one to sign on to that," he said. "But I think it would be a good thing. I think it would save lives."

About a decade ago, Congress threatened to withhold federal highway money from states, like Wisconsin, that didn't lower the legal limit to .08 from .10.

The NTSB recommendation comes on the 25th year anniversary of the deadliest drunk-driving crash in U.S. history. On May 14, 1988, a drunk driver drove the wrong way down a Kentucky highway, killing 24 children and three adults on a school bus.

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