I-Team Report: Stopping super drunks - WNEM TV 5

I-Team Report: Stopping super drunks

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GENESEE COUNTY, MI (WNEM) -

It’s a call no parent wants to get.

"I was getting ready for work when we got the phone call,” Kim Vargo said.

Vargo received the call early one Friday morning back in 2007. The caller said her son had been killed by a “super drunk” driver.

Shaun Vargo was only 19-years-old.

He was on his way home from work about 3 a.m. when the drunk driver slammed into his car.

“We didn't get to say goodbye. He was already passed away,” Kim Vargo said.

That drunk driver was one of Shaun's high school classmates. He got seven years behind bars. 

Three years after Shaun was laid to rest, Michigan lawmakers passed the Super Drunk OWI. It means if you have a blood alcohol level above .17 and you are caught driving, you're in a whole lot of trouble.

Is the law keeping us safe, though?

"Yes, we use it and I have found it to be a good deterrent. Individuals now know, I believe, that they are subject to the higher sanctions, a longer jail sentence, more difficulty with your driving record as you move forward if you are convicted of the super drunk. I think it works,” Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said.

However, the I-Team has learned the super drunk driving law may not be working well enough.

"The latest statistics to come out for 2016 were slightly higher than 2015 and we are as an organization obviously concerned,” Angel Harris said.

Harris is with MADD – Mother’s Against Drunk Driving. She said while MADD is concerned about drunk driving being up in Michigan, it's still thankful that stricter penalties are in effect.

Penalties under the law include up to 45 days of no driving and 320 days of restricted driving, which means adding an ignition interlock or breathalyzer onto your vehicle.

With an ignition interlock, the vehicle won't start if a person has been drinking.

MADD likes the idea.

"It not only is a constant reminder of why they are where they are, it also costs them money every month. There are limitations on when they can drive and where they can go, and additionally it works in a way to teach people how to think before they act,” Harris said.

MADD thinks the interlock system works well under the super drunk law. Harris said now it's time for the legislature to make it part of the punishment for people busted driving drunk under the .17 limit.  

She said a lot of states currently do that right now.

"I think our statistics show that if all states have to go to the all offender interlocks we would save 1,000 lives a year,” Harris said.

Meanwhile, Vargo has a message to anyone considering getting behind the wheel after drinking.

"Your decision isn't only effecting you, it's a selfish, ignorant, irresponsible decision,” she said.

The Michigan legislature recently approved bills that will continue the state's .08 blood-alcohol limit for drunken driving until 2021. 

The limit was set to return to .10 in October 2018, putting federal funding at risk unless lawmakers acted.  

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