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Editorial: Pennsylvania must protect public from repeat DUI offenders

No amount of time will fill the empty places in the hearts of Delaware County residents Rich and Roseann DeRosa, whose daughter Deana Eckman was killed in a car crash caused by a drunken driver in 2019.

The passage of more than two years has not diminished the couple’s determination to prevent other parents from living their nightmare. The DeRosas are committed to seeing laws passed to increase penalties for repeat DUI offenders in Pennsylvania.

Deana Eckman, 45, was killed by David Strowhouer in a drunken-driving crash as she and her husband, Chris, were returning home from a family gathering Feb. 16, 2019. Chris Eckman was injured in the crash.

Strowhouer’s blood-alcohol level was 0.199%, and he had traces of cocaine, diazepam and marijuana in his system at the time. He pleaded guilty to homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence and related offenses and was sentenced to 25 1/2 to 50 years in state prison.

Roseann DeRosa said the criminal justice system had already failed their family because Strowhouer — with five prior DUIs — was given concurrent rather than consecutive sentences on his fourth and fifth offenses. Strowhouer failed to live up to parole requirements, which likewise should have gotten him off the street before the crash, said Rich DeRosa.

The DeRosas testified recently before the state Senate Transportation Committee, which is considering the latest proposals to stiffen penalties for DUI. The proposals would increase penalties for repeat offenders and expand use of Continuous Alcohol Monitoring, or CAM, bracelets that alert authorities when someone already convicted of a DUI offense imbibes while on probation. They are sponsored by Republican Rep. Chris Quinn of Delaware County, and Sen. Bob Mensch, a Montgomery County Republican who represents part of Berks County.

This is the second package of bills named Deana’s Law that the DeRosas have been pursuing for two years. A previous attempt to stiffen penalties was defeated largely due to an amendment that carved out marijuana “used lawfully” under the state’s Medical Marijuana Act from definitions for a “controlled substance.”

The exception, which was later removed, garnered opposition from AAA, while penalties including first-degree felonies drew the ire of Second Amendment organizations because they bar an offender from later owning firearms.

Roseann DeRosa is frustrated with a legislative process that she said loses sight of the danger of drunken drivers and gets bogged down with irrelevant amendments and concerns about the rights of criminals more than victims.

Rich DeRosa said Deana’s Law would mandate consecutive sentences for the worst DUI offenders. He spoke about the need for extended incarceration and expanded monitoring of those who continually flout the law.

A 2018 joint report from the Pennsylvania Departments of Drug and Alcohol Programs and PennDOT showed drivers with prior DUI convictions are 62% more likely to be in a fatal crash.

“Remember that your families and loved ones share the road with irresponsible DUI drivers,” Rich DeRosa told legislators. “Don’t think for a minute that this tragedy couldn’t happen to your family. I used to think that, now there’s an empty chair at my table and a hole in my heart.”

Time cannot fill that hole for this family as they are driven by a need to see laws change to protect others. And in Harrisburg, time is being whittled away by distractions that take attention away from the core issue.

Deana’s Law should not be this difficult to adopt: It targets repeat offenders who are a menace on the road and a threat to lives. The DeRosas are fighting heroically to protect other families from their pain. It’s about time legislators listen and take action to pass Deana’s Law and get repeat DUI offenders off the road.


Source: Berkshire mont

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