Homicide by Vehicle While Driving Intoxicated

30-year-old David Strowhouer may become the first man to be convicted of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

Homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence is a relatively new offense that has appeared in the books. It carries a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years for repeat offenders.

Since 2010, Strowhouer has been convicted of DUI on five separate occasions. It seems he learned little from his previous offenses. Last month, he allegedly crashed his pickup truck into a Subaru on the other side of the road and fled. He was then arrested on February 17, the day after the crash occurred.

Witnesses said that Strowhouer crossed the double-yellow line on Route 452 and crashed head-on into the Eckmans’ car. By the time the authorities arrived, Deana Eckman was found unresponsive. Her husband, the driver, was treated for a broken pelvis, but Mrs. Eckman was eventually pronounced dead at the scene.

According to reports, the driver of the truck was not immediately found. Instead, the police were approached by a man – Strowhouer – who claimed to be a passenger of said vehicle. He appeared drunk and smelled of alcohol. Authorities discovered that Strowhouer was the driver of the crashed truck and that the vehicle belonged to someone else. Police found his driver’s license in the truck and noted that it was an expired Florida license. Further investigation found that his Pennsylvania license was suspended due to his prior DUI convictions in the state.

Records show that Strowhouer has repeated offenses from 2010 up until 2017. Four of his convictions had been in Chester County alone. In his 2017 case, the court sentenced him to one to five years in prison. However, Strowhouer was granted parole after about a year, due to good behavior.

If found guilty, he will be the first person in Delaware County to be convicted of this offense. In addition, he faces the charge of aggravated assault by vehicle, causing an accident involving death, among others.

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Does Implied Consent have No Boundaries?

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause…”

In simple terms, the amendment protects the rights of U.S. citizens from being violated by the government. The government needs to have a good reason to barge into our private lives.

Even though the rules are written in the Constitution for all to refer to, some law enforcement members decide to overstep boundaries. They keep testing the legal limits, thinking they are entitled to do so in order to “protect the public”.

For example, in the case of Mitchell vs. Wisconsin, Gerald P. Mitchell had his blood drawn while he was unconscious. Police officers had read him his rights, but the man had been too incapacitated for the whole arresting procedure. However, the police had his blood analyzed, revealing his BAC to be .222. They then used this information to charge Mitchell with a DUI.

We also continue to hear news about individuals being forced to comply to breathalyzers and even cavity searches. And when we try to protect those rights that the law says we have, we are charged with resisting arrest.

Over half of the U.S. states accept the implied consent law. These 29 states allow law enforcement to conduct warrantless blood draws on unconscious individuals, if they are suspected of DUI.

I understand people wanting the police to be proactive in order to prevent bad outcomes; it can help save lives. But, there unfortunately is a fine line between that and supporting the rights of individuals to make their own decisions. If these decisions cause injury and result in a criminal act, that is something for which to look out. Still, does it have to come with such a violation of individual rights? “Innocent until proven guilty” seems to be fast becoming a utopian phrase.

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Californian Lawmakers to Lower the Blood Alcohol Limit to .05?

“Our fight is not with the alcohol industry; it is just about not getting behind the wheel when you’ve been drinking.”

Back in 1990, the legal blood alcohol limit in California was lowered from .10 to .08. It was lowered in the hopes of reducing the number of alcohol-related traffic incidents within the state. While these efforts have produced positive results, there is still much that needs to be improved. In 2016, California had 3,995 traffic fatalities with around thirty percent of them involving BAC levels of .08 or more.

And now, there comes another push to lower the BAC level even more. On February 22, Assemblywoman Autumn Burke introduced a new bill – AB 1713, also known as Liam’s Law. The bill would change the BAC limit to .05, along with corresponding adjustments. Burke and Assemblyman Heath Flora authored the bill, with the help of state Senator Jerry Hill who co-authored it.

This proposal comes after various pushes for change in DUI laws, one of the most prominent coming from Marcus Kowal and his wife Mishel Eder. Their 15-month old son, Liam, was killed by a drunk driver in 2016 as his aunt was pushing him in a stroller across a street.

But as they have stated before, they aren’t trying to combat the alcohol industry; their goal is to save lives. They believe that the U.S. drinking culture needs to view drunken driving more severely and respond accordingly. Thousands of people are killed around the country in incidents that could’ve been avoided, if people refrained from drunk driving.

According to Flora, dropping the BAC level to .05 acts as a warning to people to reconsider driving drunk. This has been shown to reduce the number of alcohol-related traffic deaths.  The National Transportation Safety Board predicts that a .05 DUI level across the U.S. would save 1,500 lives a year. Starting this year, Utah started implementing the lower limit, so it will be important to observe how the revision works. Other states have been considering similar proposals as well.

The first official discussion for AB 1713 will take place some time in late March.

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Autonomous Cars to Determine if You Are Fit to Drive

Current legislation does not consider the autopilot function of cars to be a legitimate loophole in the DUI laws. You can still be arrested for DUI if you find yourself behind the wheel – self-driving or not. With continued development, using autonomous cars as a preventative measure for potentially dangerous driving is worth reevaluating. Otherwise, it could remain an option that presents considerable danger to the driver and the others on the road. Over in China though, it looks like one tech company has taken a proactive approach.

On January 17, Huawei submitted a patent to the European Patent Office – one describing a system that would determine whether or not the driver is capable of taking control of the car. The program would read the driver and figure out what condition he or she was in. In addition, it would retain past images of the driver and access details such as facial expression and speech to establish if the driver was in an adequate state to drive.

Taking it a step further, the system could detect various forms of impairment, ranging from tiredness to even road rage. Depending on the perceived conditions, the car would take a course of action, such as locking the controls.

The patent explains that the autonomous system may ask the driver a series of questions to better decide its response. Since the system cannot automatically recognize the driver’s state of mind, this analysis would make up for it. Potential enhancements include various sensors and cameras to detect bottles of alcohol, drugs and weapons.

This patent introduces a system that goes beyond what a simple ignition interlock device can do. However, these augmentations are likely to invoke the issue of privacy invasion. It could possibly be effective as a measure implemented after someone has been convicted of multiple DUIs or possession charges. But, would the system be programmed as standard in all vehicles? Programmers will need to develop a reasonable algorithm that determines if I’m opening bottles on the drive home or holding them.

Seems like we still have many variables to consider. Nonetheless, a functional system to help out with DUI problems may not be that far ahead in the future.

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Pickup Truck Injures 10 in Fullerton’s SOCO

Early February 10th, a driver plowed into a crowd on a sidewalk in South of Commonwealth of Fullerton, or as locals call it SOCO. A Toyota Tacoma had reportedly jumped the curb, struck people, and proceeded to crash into a tree. Victims were between 18 and 49 years old, with injuries ranging from moderate to critical. Some of them unfortunately got trapped underneath the truck.

First responders and good Samaritans at the scene worked together to lift the truck and free those trapped beneath it. They were then treated by emergency technicians and transported to the hospital. The others who were struck by the vehicle were also sent to the hospital for treatment. In addition, one of the passengers in the truck was reported to be injured as well. All of the people involved in the accident are expected to survive.

Fullerton Police Department Lieutenant Jon Radus was quoted to say, “It’s sad. This is supposed to be a place where people are able to come and enjoy themselves and, unfortunately, someone’s reckless behavior…has caused a lot of heartache and a lot of sadness for families today.”

The driver was later identified as 22-year-old Christopher Solis of Anaheim. Police suspected him of having been under the influence of drugs when the incident occurred. They placed him under arrest for felony DUI causing great bodily injury.

Witness reports mention an altercation that started the series of events. A group of men allegedly surrounded the truck and began pounding on it. The witness mentions seeing the men try to get the driver out of the truck but, as a result of the driver’s resistance, the driver lost control of the vehicle.

Jose Barajas, the suspect’s brother, told reporters what Solis recollected of the incident. Gang members were attacking Solis, trying to take his car and other possessions. In an effort to escape his attackers, he tried to drive away but then crashed into another car. He then lost control of the car and plowed into the crowd on the sidewalk, eventually hitting into the tree.

The police reported that a drug recognition expert did an evaluation and determined that he was under the influence of drugs at the time of the collision. However, Barajas claim that Solis passed a field sobriety test and had not been drinking or using drugs. Officials are still waiting for the results of the toxicology test to confirm their suspicions regarding drug use and impairment.

Meanwhile, Solis is being held on $100,000 bail. His first court appearance was set for Wednesday, February 13th.

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