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Drunk drivers threaten Missouri roadway safety for all motorists - including their own passengers

November 5, 2013

blk-cuffs-and-key-175957-m.jpgAs our Missouri car accident lawyers know, drunk drivers jeopardize the safety of everyone on our state's road - innocent drivers and passengers who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sadly, that includes young children who, in all too many cases, are riding in the same vehicle as the impaired driver.

This week, a Sparta man pleaded guilty to five criminal charges in connection with a drunk driving accident that resulted in the death of his three year-old son. After striking a plea agreement with prosecutors, 34 year-old John Clark pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter and four counts of second degree felony assault. The charges stem from a three-vehicle crash on Highway 14 in November 2012: law enforcement officials say Clark was eastbound near Cheyenne Road when he crossed the center line and struck an oncoming Ford Explorer. The Explorer was then struck by another vehicle.

Three year-old Kohen Clark was pronounced dead at the scene, while four other vehicle occupants suffered injuries in the collision. A blood test performed 33 minutes after the accident revealed that John Clark's blood alcohol content was 0.102%. Highway Patrol Trooper Shane Rowe investigated the scene and noted "a strong odor of an intoxicating beverage emitting from [Mr. Clark]" and that "Mr. Clark said he couldn't remember how the crash occurred." Currently, Clark is being held in the Christian County Jail until his sentencing hearing in January. He is also the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit, filed in October by Kohen Clark's mother, who was a passenger in John Clark's vehicle at the time of the accident, and who also suffered injuries.

Drunk driving accidents and child injuries: The tragic facts

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 211 children age 14 and under died in 2010 U.S. accidents caused by drunk drivers. In over half of those accidents, the children who suffered fatal injuries were riding in the same vehicle as the drunk driver.

• The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that "drinking drivers are much less likely to make sure a child is properly restrained. Specifically, in fatal crashes, sober drivers had restrained their children 30.5% of the time, compared with only 18% for drinking drivers."

• Nationwide, 43 states and Washington D.C. have enacted laws that create more severe penalties for drunk drivers when they are caught driving under the influence with children in their vehicles. The laws are widely varied in both their definition of what constitutes a "child passenger," and what penalties are imposed on offenders. Unfortunately, Missouri is one of the seven states that do not have such a law in place.

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Family of man killed in drunk driving accident awarded over $40 million in wrongful death lawsuit

490062_night_traffic.jpgWhen drunk drivers cause car accidents that injure innocent Missouri motorists, they may face numerous criminal charges and penalties associated with the accident. In addition, they may be subject to personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits that allow accident victims to recover compensation for their damages and losses. And, as our Springfield personal injury lawyers know, such losses can be immense.

Recently, an Alabama jury awarded more than $40 million to the family of a church music minister who was killed in a 2009 crash caused by a drunk driver. According to The Birmingham News, the award was granted in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the widow and young son of 35 year-old Derric Rush, who was driving home from a Wednesday night church service when his vehicle was rear-ended and forced into a concrete barrier. Authorities say the other driver, 39 year-old James Kendrick, had been drinking in a nightclub parking lot and then continued drinking inside the nightclub in the hours before he decided to get behind the wheel. Kendrick was traveling over 100 miles per hour when he struck Rush's vehicle. His blood alcohol content was later found to be between 0.14 and 0.18%.

In addition to Kendrick, the lawsuit also named the nightclub, Club Volcano, as a defendant. Rush's family alleged that Kendrick and a companion "consumed most of a 750 ml bottle of Crown Royal liquor while sitting in a parked vehicle in the parking lot on the premises of the defendant, Club Volcano. Both of these men became intoxicated. It is believed that this practice was known, condoned and allowed by Defendant Club Volcano." A jury found in favor of the plaintiffs, ruling that the club must pay $37 million and Kendrick must pay $3.25 million in damages suffered by Rush's surviving family members. In 2011, Kendrick was also convicted of reckless manslaughter and is currently serving a 12 year prison sentence.

In the majority of wrongful death and personal injury cases involving drunk drivers, Missouri law follows "the common law rule that furnishing alcoholic beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries inflicted by intoxicated persons." However, accident victims may be permitted to take legal action against establishments that serve alcoholic drinks for consumption on the premises if one of two conditions applies:

• The seller "knew or should have known that intoxicating liquor was served to a person under the age of twenty-one years"; or
• The seller "knowingly served intoxicating liquor to a visibly intoxicated person."

Continue reading "Family of man killed in drunk driving accident awarded over $40 million in wrongful death lawsuit" »

Driving under the influence: The risks facing Missouri motorists

February 18, 2013

160456_pour_drink.jpgDespite increased awareness about the dangers of driving under the influence, alcohol continues to be a contributing factor in many Missouri auto accidents - as our Springfield personal injury lawyers know all too well. In 2012, 217 people were killed and 815 were injured in Missouri traffic crashes involving an impaired driver.

Recently, a Purdy man was sentenced to 20 years in prison for causing a drunk driving accident that killed an 11 year-old girl and injured two others. The Missouri Highway Patrol reports that 28 year-old Gregory Swaffar was under the influence of alcohol in February 2011 when he crossed the center line of Highway 37 in Barry County and hit another vehicle head on. The driver of the that vehicle, 33 year-old Kenneth Keif, and his 11 year-old daughter Melissa were both airlifted from the scene of the crash. Melissa later died as a result of her injuries. Swaffar was not hurt in the crash, but his passenger, 46 year-old Sandra Larson, was also seriously injured.

In January, Swaffar pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated, involuntary manslaughter, and two counts of second-degree assault. Then, this week, a judge sentenced him to 20 years in jail on the involuntary manslaughter charge and five years for each count of assault. Swaffar will serve the terms concurrently. Following the fatal accident, authorities discovered that Swaffar had two previous convictions for driving under the influence within the previous year, one of which was for "excessive blood alcohol content." In 2011, Kenneth Kief also won a $1 million dollar settlement in a personal injury and wrongful death lawsuit against Swaffar.

Drunk driving facts & statistics

• Predictably, a driver's chance of causing a collision increases exponentially as his or her blood alcohol content (BAC) rises. Research indicates that drivers with any alcohol in their bloodstream are seven times more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers with no alcohol in their blood. Drivers who reach the legal limit for intoxication (0.08%) are 13 times more likely to cause an accident.

• According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 30 people are killed in U.S. auto accidents involving a drunk driver, which means a drunk driving death occurs every 48 minutes.

• The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that one out of three Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash within their lifetimes.

• Consuming alcohol has a negative effect on several essential driving skills, including judgment, concentration, comprehension, coordination and reaction time.

Continue reading "Driving under the influence: The risks facing Missouri motorists" »

Highway Patrol: Springfield, Missouri motorists at increased risk for drunk driving accidents over New Year's holiday

December 12, 2012

660188_champagne.jpgDuring the upcoming New Year's traffic crash counting period (Friday, December 28, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. to Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 11:59 p.m.), the Missouri Highway Patrol plans to have every available officer patrolling Missouri roadways. Drivers can expect to see increased patrols and DUI checkpoints throughout the counting period. Our Springfield personal injury lawyers were pleased to see a recent news release from the Patrol urging Missourians to make responsible choices as they celebrate 2013.

Celebrating New Year's safely: Tips from the Missouri Highway Patrol

• If you plan on involving alcohol in your New Year's celebration, also plan ahead for alternative transportation. Designate a sober driver or call a taxi service - and remember that buzzed driving is drunk driving. If you've been drinking any alcohol, your safest best is to avoid getting behind the wheel. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that a driver's risk of a fatal crash increases considerably when his/her blood alcohol content (BAC) reaches 0.05%, which is within the legal limit. Once a driver's BAC reaches 0.08% and beyond, the fatal crash risk spikes dramatically.

• Wear your seatbelt. Of Missourians who died in 2011 auto accidents, seven out of 10 had failed to buckle up. Wearing a seat belt reduces your risk of fatal injury by 45%.

• Be alert and follow all traffic laws. Since the New Year's holiday increases your chances of encountering an impaired driver, you'll want to stay especially aware of what's happening around you. Don't assume you know what another driver will do: instead, slow down and allow plenty of extra space between your car and the vehicles traveling near you

Drunk driving accidents in Missouri and nationwide: The sobering facts

• According to estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one in three Americans will be involved in a drunk driving crash within their lifetimes.

• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says more than 1.4 million U.S. drivers were arrested for drunk driving in 2010. Staggeringly, those arrests represent approximately one percent of the 112 million self-reported drunk driving episodes that occur every year.

• The holiday season has proven to be a particularly deadly time of year. Federal data reveals that an average 25 Americans were killed every day in December 2010 as a result of crashes caused by impaired drivers.

• In a 2011 survey conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance, one out of 10 teen drivers admitted to driving drunk on New Year's Eve.

Continue reading "Highway Patrol: Springfield, Missouri motorists at increased risk for drunk driving accidents over New Year's holiday" »

Parents sue driver, bar after daughter dies in drunk driving crash

November 28, 2012

file7631243897648.jpgA Texas couple has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in connection with a drunk driving crash that killed their daughter on August 14, 2011. According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, the lawsuit is being brought by Victor and Melissa Aguilar, whose daughter, 19 year-old Samantha Martinez, died in the single-vehicle accident. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from the driver, 31 year-old Dr. David Gonzalez-Gibler, and the owner of the establishment that served him alcohol.

Authorities say Gonzalez-Gibler was speeding when he lost control of his vehicle and struck a guardrail, causing the car to flip over multiple times. Martinez, a passenger, was ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene. Gonzalez-Gibler and another occupant, 18 year-old Dawnyelle Rios, both suffered injuries.

A blood test revealed that Gonzalez-Gibler's blood alcohol content was 0.14%, nearly twice the legal limit. About a month later, he was indicted on charges of intoxication assault and intoxication manslaughter. His trial is scheduled to begin in December.

The Aguilars' lawsuit alleges that Martinez, Gonzalez-Gibler and Rios were drinking at Klusoz Martini Bar and Lounge in the hours before the crash. It accuses Klusoz employees of serving alcohol to the two women, who were underage, and to Gonzalez-Gibler, even after he was visibly intoxicated.

Wrongful death lawsuits and Missouri dram shop laws:

In most cases, Missouri law prohibits bars and restaurants from being held liable for the actions of their intoxicated patrons: our state follows the common law rule "that furnishing alcoholic beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries inflicted by intoxicated persons."

However, a Missouri wrongful death lawsuit can be brought "by or on behalf of any person who has suffered personal injury or death against any person licensed to sell intoxicating liquor by the drink for consumption on the premises when it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the seller knew or should have known that intoxicating liquor was served to a person under the age of twenty-one years or knowingly served intoxicating liquor to a visibly intoxicated person" (537.053 RSMo).

Continue reading "Parents sue driver, bar after daughter dies in drunk driving crash" »

Woman charged with nine felonies, including homicide by drunk driving, following fatal crash

November 7, 2012

844622_speed_2.jpgA Wisconsin woman has been charged with nine felonies in connection with a drunk driving crash that killed two of her passengers and seriously injured a third. According to WSAW TV, 24 year Ashley Baumann is facing two counts of homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle; two counts of homicide with a prohibited blood alcohol content, two counts of homicide by negligent driving; one count of causing great bodily harm by drunk driving; and one count of reckless driving causing great bodily harm.

Prosecutors say one of Baumann's passengers, 29 year-old Jerrica Woller, had expressed fears about Baumann's dangerous driving only minutes before the tragic crash on June 7. Woller reportedly exited the vehicle at a stop sign and said she would not get back in the car unless Baumann promised to drive more safely. Then, around 3:30 a.m., investigators say Baumann was traveling at a high rate of speed when she lost control of the vehicle on a straight stretch of roadway. She subsequently ran off the road and crashed into a nearby field.

The vehicle rolled several times, ejecting its occupants. Two women riding in the backseat - 33 year-old Jessica Hartwig and 31 year-old Misty Gilsch - were pronounced dead at the scene. Baumann and Woller (who was riding in the front passenger seat) were also seriously injured in the crash.

Baumann's blood test - performed at the hospital about four hours after the accident - revealed that her blood alcohol content was 0.157%, nearly twice the legal limit of 0.08%. And investigators determined that Baumann's car was at 100% throttle and traveling between 92 and 99 miles per hour in the moments immediately before the vehicle left the roadway and overturned.

The homicide charges connected to drunk driving offenses have the most serious potential consequences for Baumann, reports the Wausau Daily Herald: each count carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and up to $100,000 in fines. In addition to the criminal charges, the family of Misty Gilsch has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Baumann and her insurer.

Baumann is currently free on bond. She is due back in court for a preliminary hearing in December.

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One dead, five injured when suspected drunk driver plows into backyard Halloween party

October 31, 2012

898145_slow_shutter.jpgOn Tuesday, one person was killed and five others were injured when a suspected drunk driver ran off the road and crashed into a group of people attending a backyard Halloween party. It happened in Houston, Texas: television station KRTK reports that a Chevrolet Camero ran a stop sign at a three way intersection, left the roadway, jumped a steep ditch and drove through a wooden fence into a private backyard, where the party was underway.

38 year-old Ana Sylvia Borjas was pronounced dead at the scene. Five other partygoers sustained various injuries when they were struck by the vehicle: two were airlifted to Memorial Hermann Hospital; one was taken by ambulance; and one - a four year old girl, who was thrown from the arms of one of the other victims - sustained minor injuries.

Meanwhile, as uninjured partygoers ran to assist those who had been struck, the driver of the Camero fled the scene on foot. Following the crash, the son of the Camero's owner contacted police to report the vehicle stolen: however, when officers questioned the man, he eventually admitted that he had loaned the vehicle to a friend. Law enforcement officials continue to search for the driver, 20 year-old Johnathan Hudson, who has been charged with leaving the scene of an accident causing injury.

Harris County deputies suspect that Hudson may have been under the influence of alcohol. "There (are) signs that alcohol was a factor in the crash," said Sergeant Susan Cotter told television station KHOU. "The vehicle smells like alcohol."

Sadly, drunk driving accidents cause serious, life-threatening injuries throughout all year round. However, given the festivities and pedestrian traffic associated with Halloween, impaired drivers can be especially deadly at this time of year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) reports that in 2010, 41% of U.S. highway fatalities involved drivers with a blood alcohol content above the legal limit (0.08%).

Continue reading "One dead, five injured when suspected drunk driver plows into backyard Halloween party" »

St. Louis man, repeat DWI offender, charged with murder in hit-and-run crash that killed boy, 4

October 9, 2012

file0002112653337.jpgThis week, a St. Louis man was charged with hit and run, assault and second degree murder in connection with an accident that killed a 4 year-old boy. And according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the suspect has an extended history of drunk driving offenses.

The accident happened on October 5. At about 7:30 in the evening, a pickup struck two young boys as they attempted to cross the 7300 block of St. Charles Rock Road. Traye-shon Williams, 4, was pronounced dead at the scene. His brother, 10 year-old Jayshard Conner, was taken by ambulance to St. Louis Children's Hospital. He sustained multiple broken bones, but he was released from the hospital on Tuesday.

Police immediately began searching for the driver. On Sunday, they received an anonymous tip that directed them to 54 year-old Ricky Weeden's home. There, officers located a Chevrolet Silverado, and an eyewitness to the crash identified the vehicle as the one that struck the boys. Later in the day, Weedin was arrested and charged with one count of leaving the scene of a fatal accident. However, those charges were later upgraded after investigators learned more about Weeden's criminal history.

Some details about Weeden's past are still not known. However, law enforcement officials have released the following details:

• In 1983, Weeden caused a crash on Goodfellow Boulevard that left two people dead and two others injured. He was arrested for manslaughter, assault and careless and imprudent driving. Ultimately, he was only charged with the C&I and only paid $50 in bail.

• In 1993, Weeden's driver's license was revoked when he refused to submit to a breathalyzer test. His license was never reinstated.

• Since losing his license, Weeden has been cited numerous times for speeding, failing to stop at stop signs, and driving without a license. He has also been convicted of drunk driving at least six times. Two of his convictions were felonies for being a persistent DWI offender.

Authorities have been unable to explain why Weeden was sometimes charged with a misdemeanor and sometimes with a felony when he was arrested for drunk driving.

Continue reading "St. Louis man, repeat DWI offender, charged with murder in hit-and-run crash that killed boy, 4" »

Marine pleads not guilty to manslaughter charges in crash that killed his sister, her boyfriend

September 25, 2012

1103691_alley.jpgA U.S. Marine has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges in connection with a drunk driving crash that killed his sister and her boyfriend. The Morning Sentinel reports that 23 year-old Travis Lawler was indicted this week on two counts of manslaughter and two counts of aggravated operating under the influence. A crash investigation conducted by the Maine State Police determined that excessive speed and alcohol use directly contributed to the crash.

Lawler was reportedly on leave from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina when the accident occurred in North Belgrade, Maine. Police say he was behind the wheel of a 2011 Toyota Carolla that ran off the road while negotiating a curve and struck a tree. The front seat passenger, 20 year-old Kristin Lawler, was pronounced dead at the scene. Her boyfriend, 25 year-old Jackson Bolduc, was riding in the backseat. He was taken to a Waterville hospital by helicopter, but he died from his injuries the next day. A fourth occupant, 20 year-old Dylan Desroches, was also airlifted from the scene with critical injuries, but ultimately survived the crash.

According to authorities, Travis Lawler was not in the car when emergency responders arrived, and police began organizing a search party to locate him. He was later found about a half-mile away on the shore of Great Pond, after a resident called police to report a man on his property. At that time, Lawler was taken by ambulance for treatment of minor cuts and scrapes.

After the crash, Lawler told the Kennebec Journal that he had no memory of leaving the accident scene. He said he couldn't remember why he walked away, or where the group had been prior to the accident. He also said he was in the water when police approached him. His uncle, David Leeman, told the Journal that the four occupants of the Carolla had been at the beach earlier in the evening. Leeman said Lawler was confused following the accident and believed his sister was lost, so he walked back towards the water to find her. "He was in a state of shock," Leeman said. "He thought he was searching for her and didn't know where she was."

Following the hearing on Tuesday, Lawler posted $1,000 cash bail. Under the conditions of his release, he is not allowed to drive or to use (or possess) alcohol. He is also prohibited from contacting Desroches, the other survivor of the accident. If convicted, Lawler could face a lengthy prison sentence: each of the manslaughter charges carry a maximum penalty of 30 years behind bars.

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Man charged with homicide by drunk driving after causing fatal seven car pileup

669002_red_traffic_light.jpgThirty seconds after police received a report of a possible drunk driver, that very driver caused a seven car pileup that left one woman dead. It happened last Friday in Wisconsin: according to the Eau Claire County Sheriff's department, 35 year-old Travis Hazelton slammed into a line of six stopped vehicles that were waiting at a stop light. One man - 26 year-old Jesse Schreiner, Hazelton's passenger - was pronounced dead at the scene. In addition, five people - including Hazelton - were hospitalized after suffering injuries in the crash.

Authorities say that alcohol was a large contributor to the accident, and Hazelton has since been charged with homicide by drunk driving. He was not immediately arrested because he remains in the hospital; however, he is expected to be taken into custody promptly after he is released. There are no recent reports on his current medical status.

WEAU 13 reports that Hazelton has had a fair amount of legal trouble within the past few years. Three years ago, he served time for making counterfeit money, and in April 2011, he was convicted of his 3rd-drunk driving offense. Now, Hazelton is facing serious legal consequences, as the accident constitutes a 4th offense, and also resulted in a fatality.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), driving under the influence is a leading cause of crash fatalities in the United States: an average of one person is killed every half-hour in an auto accident involving alcohol. What's more, NHTSA also predicts that three in every ten Americans will be involved in an accident caused by alcohol within some point of their lives. Despite raised awareness about the dangers of drunk driving, far too many innocent people still die in these totally preventable crashes.

Penalties associated with drunk driving offenses
vary from state to state. Here in Missouri, law enforcement officials take accidents involving alcohol very seriously, and courts are often strict about sentencing. A drunk driving accident causing death to any involved party is considered a Class C felony, punishable by up to 7 years in prison and up to $5000 in fines. If a fatal alcohol-related crash results in the death of two or more people (or any person who is not the driver's passenger), or if the driver has a blood alcohol content of 0.18 or above, the driver can be charged with a Class B felony. If convicted, offenders can be sentenced to five to 15 years in prison.

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Driver faces manslaughter charges for December crash that killed 2 Parkview grads

952313_gavel.jpgThis week, Jasper County Prosecutors brought manslaughter charges against a driver involved in a fatal crash last winter, according to KY3. Jeremy Johnson was driving when his SUV crashed on I-44 in December, killing two former Parkview High School football players, Diondre Johnson and Michael McCrimmons. A third passenger, Patrick Holt, was also critically injured in the wreck.

On the night of the crash, the four young men - all students at Missouri Southern in Joplin - were heading home after a late evening at a Springfield nightclub. According to witnesses, the SUV was speeding excessively before it struck a median cable and overturned into westbound traffic. Diondre Johnson was ejected from the vehicle and killed instantly.

Immediately after the wreck, Jeremy Johnson exited the SUV and was hit by a passing car. Seconds later, a tractor trailer struck the overturned vehicle, killing McCrimmons and seriously injuring Holt. Jeremy Johnson was also seriously injured: he is currently in a wheelchair and undergoes daily physical therapy sessions.

According to prosecutors, the Missouri Highway Patrol found that Jeremy Johnson was under the influence of alcohol when the crash occurred, and he has been charged with two counts of manslaughter. Manslaughter charges are common when someone is killed unintentionally or without malice. There are two types of manslaughter: voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter charges tend to be brought against defendants who commit crimes due to being provoked.

In contrast, involuntary manslaughter charges are most often brought when someone's death is caused by negligence. For example, reckless driving is the most common basis for involuntary manslaughter charges. However, the charge can be amended to murder if there is proof the negligence was intentional. In some states, driving under the influence and causing a death can be considered murder rather than manslaughter.

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Iowa Mom Arrested for Drunk Driving After Teen Daughter Calls 911 From Car

1252046_beer_glass.jpgThe average drunk driver get behind the wheel an average of 80 times before their first arrest, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). It appears that an Iowa woman's luck recently ran out: she was arrested for driving drunk after her teen daughter - and her passenger - called the police. And then, just over four weeks later, she was arrested again.

On the evening of March 15 at about 8:10 p.m., a 911 dispatcher in Oxford, Iowa took a call from a frightened young woman. The teen was calling from a vehicle to report her mother for drunk driving.

On the recording of the call, the mother, 47 year-old Lori Ann Becicka, can be heard in the background, asking her daughter who she's calling. "Umm, I was talking to 911 because Dad said to call them," the girl responds. She repeatedly tells her mother to stop. The dispatcher tries to keep her calm: "You can leave the line open, hon, if you don't want to talk on the phone. If you want to act like you're hanging up, you can just leave it open and I can follow you," the dispatcher says.

Listen to the 911 recording.

Eventually, a sheriff's deputy located the vehicle. Becicka pulled into a trucking company's parking lot and immediately got out of the car, according to the official criminal complaint. The deputy noted that her eyes were watery and bloodshot, her speech was slurred, her balance was poor, and she smelled strongly of alcohol. She failed a field sobriety test, and her blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.235%, nearly 3 times the legal limit.

View the March 15 criminal complaint.

At the scene, Becicka's daughter told the deputy that her mother had also been consuming alcohol while driving, and several open containers were found in the vehicle. Becicka was arrested for drunk driving and endangering the welfare of child.

Then, on April 25, Becicka was arrested again. Once again, she immediately got out of the car. Once again, the officer noted bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and the strong smell of alcohol. Once again, empty beer cans were found inside Becicka's vehicle. And once again, she was arrested for drunk driving.

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Purdy Teen Pleads Guilty to 1st Degree Involuntary Manslaughter, Faces 7 Years in Prison for Fatal DWI Accident

565345_drinking.jpgYesterday, a teenager from Purdy, Missouri pleaded guilty to first-degree involuntary manslaughter, and she is now facing up to 7 years in prison. The charges stem from a terrible car crash that happened 2 years ago on Missouri 76: Sierra Wood, now 19, was traveling near Cassville when she ran off the road and rolled her vehicle. Her passenger and friend, 17 year-old Jessica Pettengill, was killed. Afterward, she admitted she had been drinking. Wood was expected to stand trial beginning Wednesday morning, but instead, she decided to enter a guilty plea. She will be sentenced in June.

Meanwhile, the Missouri Highway Patrol recently announced that it will participate in additional enforcement initiatives aimed at catching drunk drivers throughout the month of April. Captain Juan Villanueva, Troop D's commanding officer, announced plans for a sobriety checkpoint in Stone County in addition to saturation efforts in Stone, Dallas and Lawrence Counties.

Our lawyers have discussed the differing opinions about the usefulness of law enforcement initiatives like these, but here in Greene County, they've proven to be reasonably effective. Over St. Patrick's Day weekend, the Springfield Police Department also conducted a sobriety checkpoint at Campbell Avenue and Meadowmere Street here in Springfield: by the end of the night, they had cited 10 drivers for driving under the influence. The Greene County Sheriff's Department cited 2 additional suspected drunk drivers on the same evening.

We all know that we shouldn't drink and drive because drunk drivers kill innocent people, including residents of Springfield and the surrounding areas. In 2010, 218 people were killed by drunk drivers in Missouri, meaning a fatal drinking related crash killed a Missourian every 2.2 hours. In that same year, an additional 3.823 people suffered injuries in accidents involving impaired drivers. All of these injuries and deaths could have been prevented.

Continue reading "Purdy Teen Pleads Guilty to 1st Degree Involuntary Manslaughter, Faces 7 Years in Prison for Fatal DWI Accident " »

"No Refusal" DWI Law Showing Signs of Success in Christian County, Missouri

685439_police_5.jpgIn 2010, there were 208 fatal crashes on Missouri roadways that were caused by drunk drivers. An additional 2,642 drunk driving accidents left 3,823 Missourians injured during the same year. Recently, we reported that several law enforcement agencies participated in a statewide effort to curb drunk driving over St. Patrick's weekend. And this weekend, the Springfield News-Leader discussed the effects of Christian County's "no refusal" law, which is designed to help officers identify impaired drivers.

A "no refusal" law is designed to compel drunk drivers to submit to sobriety tests. If a suspected drunk driver refuses to take a breathalyzer in Christian County, police can seek a warrant for a blood test (to be administered immediately). The process works like this: when a driver refuses, an officer then contacts the on-call Christian County prosecutor. If the prosecutor believes there is enough evidence (probable cause), he or she will then contact a judge. The judge reviews the information and issues the warrant, and an emergency medical technician is dispatched to the Christian County jail to take a blood sample.

It's been a year since the law took effect, and, according to the News-Leader, "prosecutors have succeeded in obtaining breathalyzer tests or blood samples from 25 of the 31 drivers suspected of DWI who refused to be tested" in Christian County.

Assistant Prosecutor Ben Miller said the policy has equipped law enforcement with a very important tool. "Over the past few years we, and prosecutors around the state, have begun to see a trend in DWI cases: people (whether they be judges or jurors) want to see that 'magic' number in regards to a person's BAC," Miller said in an email to the News-Leader. "This is an extension of what most prosecutors call the 'CSI effect'...where people are so trained by what they see on TV, from what they hear from friends, and what they expect from a society that is big on technology that they absolutely expect physical scientific evidence because they can even consider guilt in a case."

Continue reading ""No Refusal" DWI Law Showing Signs of Success in Christian County, Missouri" »

Weekend Checkpoints in Springfield, Missouri Result in DWI Arrests

Thumbnail image for Sequence 02_27795 copy.jpgLast week, we reported that multiple Missouri law enforcement agencies would participate in statewide DWI prevention efforts over St. Pat's weekend. Today, our Greene County car accident lawyers learned that the Springfield Police Department's contribution to this initiative was a success.


About 20-25 officers from the SPD conducted a DWI checkpoint last Friday night at the intersection of South Campbell Avenue and West Meadowmere Street. As a result, they made several arrests:

• 10 drivers were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.
• 4 drivers were arrested for possession of drugs.
• 1 driver was arrested for an outstanding warrant.
• 8 drivers were cited for driving with a suspended license.

At the same time, the Greene County Sheriff's Department conducted its own checkpoint at South Campbell Avenue and Farm Road 192: deputies arrested 2 drivers for DWI, and 11 drivers for assorted violations, including drugs and driving without a valid license.

Sheriff Jim Arnott called the effort a success, and praised his team for their initiative. "These projects could not happen without so many employees volunteering to work overtime hours to help keep the Greene County roadways safe for all of us," Arnott said.

How does a checkpoint work?
In a recent news release, the SPD described the basic method that officers use to conduct sobriety checkpoints:

• Approaching traffic is divided into 2 lanes and directed to stop at a specific point.
• A police officer will speak to each driver and ask for a valid driver's license.
• The officer will also ask each driver if he or she has been drinking.
• Provided the driver is properly licensed and sober, he or she will be waved through the checkpoint, and should not be detained for any longer than 3 minutes.

Continue reading "Weekend Checkpoints in Springfield, Missouri Result in DWI Arrests" »