Weak law creates safety threat from repeat drunk drivers

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DENVER — A FOX31 Denver investigation has found thousands of Colorado drivers, who are convicted of two or more DUI charges, are still driving.  That is because Colorado has some of the weakest DUI laws in the country.

To see this problem firsthand, we rode along with Aurora Police during a night when officers made a DUI arrest.

Our patrol car pulled over a car that appeared like it was being driven by an intoxicated person.

When officers talked to the driver, he was so drunk he was unable to follow basic commands.

The driver, Jose Haros, was arrested on a DUI charge.

Turns out this was not Haros’ first, second or even third DUI. It was his fourth.

A month later he appeared in Arapahoe County court claiming his latest arrest was unjustified.

We asked him if it was safe for him to be driving that night.  Haros replied, “I was safe to drive that night. I know. I safe.”

Regardless of whether his statement was true or not, the state’s DUI laws will not send him to prison.

Another repeat offender, Rogelio Pauli of Loveland has at least six DUI convictions on his record.

He told us, “I got a DUI when I was 16, 17, 18. Now I am 37-years-old and have three kids.”

DA says stronger DUI laws are needed

Our investigation found no matter how many times Pauli, Haros or thousands of other Colorado drivers are caught drinking and driving, over and over again, they will never be charged with anything but a misdemeanor.

Arapahoe County District Attorney, George Brauchler calls that “shocking.”

“I think to people that haven’t been to court and haven’t been through the system how difficult it is to earn your way into jail by committing DUI offenses. Our state is slapping multiple DUI offenders on the wrist. Bottom line is the rest of the country has figured this out.” Brauchler said.

Colorado is one of five states where a third DUI is not an automatic felony. Drunk drivers in Colorado currently face felony charges only when they hurt or kill someone.

Gail Parrish, a mother of two in Westminster knows that all too well.

On January 17th, 2012 Parrish’s daughter, Jenna Breen, was leaving work early on a Saturday morning when she was killed in a hit-and-run crash.

“He took my beautiful daughter. He took my future grandchildren. He took a good chunk of me.” Parrish said.

A man driving a Porsche Cayenne had gotten the attention of police. Callers to 911 alerted officers that a man was driving a maroon Porsche SUV erratically after leaving a fast food restaurant.

Before police could stop the driver, Viet Nguyen, the SUV ran a red light and slammed into Breen’s car.

The 21-year-old died instantly leaving her mother’s life in pieces.

“Christmas, oh my gosh, Christmas, her birthday just seeing her as a mother, she was very nurturing and compassionate. She would have been a beautiful mother, a wonderful mother,” Parrish said.

Nguyen was convicted of felony drunk driving and vehicular homicide. A judge sentenced him to 22 years in prison.

The lessons Nguyen claims he’s learned inside the Centennial Correctional Facility in Canon City may be priceless.

“I should have never jumped in that car. I never should have drove,” Nguyen told us from prison. He agreed to talk to us because he says the prison’s alcohol treatment program has changed his life.

“If it wasn’t for me drinking and driving, she would still be here. I just hope one day the family can forgive me for what I’ve done to them.” Nguyen said.

Law before state legislature would make third DUIs a felony

“We are being way too easy on repeat DUI offenders,” said Colorado State Representative Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs.

He introduced a bill that would change Colorado law making a third DUI offense a felony punishable by up to six years in prison.

“Once you get past three or four DUIs, treatment does not work. The only thing then we can do is to prevent that person from being able to get on the roadways and the way to do that is send them to prison,” Waller said.

The Colorado Springs Republican believes the state now has the money to support the legislation.

Lawmakers opposed to the bill say it could cost an estimated $30 million in additional prison costs the first year alone.

No state agency tracks multiple DUI offenders in Colorado. The Department of Motor Vehicles classifies people as “persistent drunk drivers” if the agency is notified by law enforcement that a driver has been convicted of at least two prior DUIs.

That does not happen in every case.

More than 12,000 people were classified as persistent drunk drivers last year alone.

Rep. Waller’s bill passed the house and now sits in the Senate. Lawmakers wrap up the session in two weeks.