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Monday, December 08, 2008

Forty-five Thousand Illinois Drivers Have DUI

Associated Press Data Reveals Convicted Drivers Still Able to Legally Drive

According to data obtained by The Associated Press from the secretary of state's office, licensed drivers in Illinois with one or more DUIs are hardly a rarity.

Ann Marie Getz already had two convictions of driving under the influence behind the wheel of her Lincoln Continental when she recently ran a stop sign in central Illinois and smashed into another car, killing Amanda Jahn, a 27-year-old violin teacher, and her children, 3-year-old Ryan and 11-month-old Kaitlyn. And yet the 43-year-old Getz presented investigators with a valid Illinois driver's license.

That someone with Getz's record had a license at all may be disturbing enough in the wake of the deadly crash, but licensed drivers in Illinois with one or more DUIs is hardly a rarity.

According to data obtained by The Associated Press from the secretary of state's office, more than 45,000 out of 8.5 million licensed drivers in Illinois have one or more DUI convictions. Records dating from 1988 to Feb. 2008 indicate that more than 3,800 have two DUIs and more than 2,700 have three.

A driver's license in Illinois is automatically revoked for life with a fourth DUI conviction. Getz, now jailed on aggravated DUI charges in the Nov. 6 crash, could be eligible to get her license reactivated at some point even if convicted and sentenced to the maximum 28 years in prison.

According to some victims' advocates, Illinois' rules on revoking licenses aren't tough enough. A lifelong driving ban should kick in with a second DUI, suggests a community activist who attended the Jahns' funeral service.

"If you choose to drink and drive, you shouldn't get latitude," Kim Scerine said. "Do you get latitude if you pick up a gun and shoot someone in the head? No, you don't."

Grundy County State's Attorney Sheldon Sobol said Getz pleaded guilty to DUI in 2001 and was convicted again in 2002; she was sentenced to 60 days in jail and her license was revoked for three years on the second conviction.

"It wasn't like she had a wine or two one night in her life, got a DUI but didn't have anything else on her driving record," Scerine said. "She had a pattern that started 20 years ago and ended when she killed three people."

After spending more than a week in a hospital after the crash, Getz was taken to jail, where she's being held on $1 million bail. She’s due in court again Dec. 4.

A telephone number for an Ann Marie Getz in Streator was no longer in service. Grundy County sheriff's office said they were unaware if she has an attorney.

State officials say that compared to other states, Illinois has a good record of cracking down on drunken drivers. They noted that alcohol-related traffic deaths have fallen over the decades to 434 in 2007 from 879 in 1982, a 50 percent decline.

A new Illinois law takes effect on January 1, 2008 that will further tighten DUI sanctions by mandating the use of breath-test devices, called interlocks, that prohibits drivers who've been drinking from starting their engines. The new law requires anyone with a DUI to use the interlocks, even after a first conviction.

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures released this year, about 400,000 people around the country have five or more convictions for drunken driving. In Illinois, more than 5,500 have five or more convictions and 123 have 10 or more. According to the federal data, the most DUI convictions by one person in Illinois is 22.

Josh Jahn would have celebrated his eighth wedding anniversary on Dec. 3. He told reporters after the funeral service that he would like to see tougher DUI laws in Illinois.

"They might still be here if there were stronger conviction laws," he said.

Did you know that courses are available to educate drivers on the rules of the road and the latest defensive driving techniques? Try one now!

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