Annie’s Law: Family pushes for tougher OVI law

As Published April 25, 2014
By Joe Webb

CBS News, Cincinnati, Ohio
CINCINNATI (WKRC) — Every year nearly 10,000 Americans are killed in alcohol-related car crashes, nearly 500 of those are Ohioans.

Despite tougher OVI laws, zero tolerance and harsh sentences, people still drive drunk. And people who get caught driving drunk, often do it again. Now, one Ohio family is pushing a tough new law that will make it harder for repeat drunk drivers to get behind the wheel.

Annie RooneyOn July 4th last year, 36-year-old Annie Rooney was driving on US-50 near Chillicothe when repeat OVI offender Shira Seymour crossed the center line and hit her.

Rooney died the next day.

Seymour is serving 8 years for aggravated vehicular homicide. It seems like another sad story with a tragic ending. But this story is far from over. Annie Rooney, an accomplished athlete and attorney, comes from a family of athletes who grew up to be attorneys and doctors. Last July, they became fighters.

Carole Rooney, Annie’s mother, said, “We’ve lost Annie but we don’t want anybody else to lose their children or their husband or their wife or their mother.”

Dr. Rick Rooney, Annie’s father, said, “We came here today, to be blunt about it, in an attempt to stop the killing and stop the dying.”

The Rooneys have taken the fight to Columbus with House Bill 469, also known as “Annie’s Law.” It would require ignition interlocks on cars for first time OVI offenders. Simply put, convicted drunk drivers in Ohio would have to pass a self-administered breathalyzer test before their car would start. This is not just a mother and father against drunk driving. The Rooney family has been at every hearing in Columbus, pushing Annie’s Law forward.

Kate Rooney Lyaker, Annie’s sister, said, “We know that it can happen and we want to stop it from happening. 400 people a year are being killed by drunk drivers in Ohio. Every year and we know we can reduce that rate significantly by changing the law.”

Dr. Walt Rooney, Annie’s brother, said, “It’s just a horrific public health plague that we just can’t believe we haven’t stopped yet and that’s why we’re here.”

The bill was introduced in March. Currently, Ohio law allows interlocks after a second offense. Right now, 20 states require ignition interlocks for first-time offenders. Interlocks could cut down on drunk people getting behind the wheel. Most years, about a third of all OVI arrests are repeat offenders. Many argue that safety would be better served if driving privileges were just taken away. But Triple-A estimates that more than half the drunk drivers whose licenses are suspended or revoked (somewhere between 50 and 75 percent of them) continue to drive without a license. Sometimes, they drive drunk.

The ignition interlock is about the size of a 1990’s cellphone and easily installed. One of the largest manufacturers, LifeSafer, is based in Blue Ash. Under Annie’s Law, the OVI offender would pay for the installation.

“It’s typically about $2.50 a day for somebody to have it installed. It’s less than if you go out and have a drink at a bar, certainly,” said Elizabeth Fink of LifeSafer Inc.

No organized opposition has surfaced in the legislature but the bill is still a long way from a vote, much less becoming law. But it has some heavyweight support in Ohio Triple-A and MADD.

“We’re hoping that we don’t continue to see first time offenders become repeat offenders. And we feel with Annie’s Law, we can see that,” Rachel Babich said of southwest Ohio MADD.

Annie Rooney spent most of her legal career prosecuting domestic violence cases. Her family says she was a fighter who fought for people who didn’t feel they had a voice. That’s why her family keeps suiting up and showing up, with no plans to shut up.

Her mother tells Local 12’s Joe Webb, “I think we’re doing what Annie can’t do. I think Annie would be right behind us pushing us and fighting for this law just like we’re doing.”

Dr. Rick Rooney says the sponsors of Annie’s Law are tweaking some technical language in the bill. He hopes it makes it out of committee next week.

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