Law will help stop repeat OVI drivers

Letter to the Editor
The Columbus Dispatch
Saturday, May 31

The May 11 Dispatch article “Repeat OVI arrests still can end in plea deal” painted a profound picture of the need for strengthened drunken-driving laws in Ohio.

As the grieving father of Annie Rooney, who was killed by a drunken driver on July 4, 2013 in Chillicothe, I find it to be outrageous that hard-core criminals are let free while I mourn.

My daughter’s killer had a record extending back to 1999 of repeated arrests for OVI, almost all of which were pled down.

Annie was  a vibrant 36-year-old who had been a prosecutor in Bozeman, Mont.

She had moved back to Ohio two years earlier to be closer to our family.

Annie was a gifted academic and athlete whose charisma had touched almost a thousand lives, and her loss has been catastrophic for our family and her friends.

We have worked for the past year to prevent further loss of life, suffering and the devastation that our family has had to shoulder. Our family is dedicated to changing the law so that another innocent person is not taken in such a reckless, preventable way.

We are pushing to get tougher legislation passed to reduce the number of drunken-driving deaths on Ohio’s road.

Joining forces with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), AAA, Nationwide and others, we are asking that all convicted drunken drivers, including first-time offenders, be required to install an ignition interlock on their vehicle if they want driving privileges.

This legislation, which we named Annie’s Law, addresses the problem of repeat offenders.

The use of ignition interlocks cuts recidivism by more than 67 percent and is more effective than license suspension. Similar legislation in 22 other states has been followed by a significant reduction in drunken-driving deaths.

The research is overwhelming that early intervention with an ignition-interlock device drastically reduces deaths.

One life lost is too many and in 2012, 385 of our neighbors in Ohio were killed in crashes involving drunken drivers, representing 34 percent of the traffic fatalities.

No father should feel such pain. Annie’s Law will protect the public and teach sober driving.


Link to article:

This entry was posted on May 31, 2014.

Repeated OVI arrests still can end in plea deal

By John Futty & Jennifer Smith Richards
The Columbus Dispatch • Sunday May 11, 2014

SAM GREENE | DISPATCH Franklin County Deputy Sheriff Robert McKee checks the license and registration of a driver at a drunken-driving checkpoint near W. Broad Street and Norton Road in Prairie Township. The activity was on Friday night.

Some people are accused — and even convicted — of driving drunk over and over yet still are able to plead guilty to a lesser charge when they’re before a judge yet again.

The effect: Even people who prosecutors believe are chronic drunken drivers avoid piling up enough misdemeanor convictions for operating a vehicle while impaired to be hit with a felony charge.

So they avoid the possibility of prison time and a lifetime suspension of their driver’s license. Some avoid or delay being placed on the state’s list of habitual drunken drivers.

A Dispatch analysis of 11 years of charges in Franklin County Municipal Court found that people with recent drunken-driving arrests pleaded guilty to amended charges nearly as often as people with no recent drunken-driving history.

The data show that even people who have been charged with OVI five, six or seven times in the past decade were able to take a plea deal that resulted in less-serious charges. On average in recent years, nearly 1 in 5 of all OVI cases in the county ended with a plea deal.

Police arrested a Columbus woman three times on impaired-driving charges in 2012. Even though Katrina M. Delpercio already had two OVI convictions, two of her 2012 charges were reduced through plea deals. Had she been convicted of either of those OVI charges, she would have been labeled a felon.

Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys are surprised by how often people with past impaired-driving arrests or convictions get reductions on new OVI cases. It boils down to whether prosecutors think they have enough evidence.

“Every single case has to be tried on its own facts,” said Lara Baker-Morrish, the city’s chief prosecutor. “Not all arrests are equal. Some cases are very strong; some are weak.”

It appears that most are strong. About 80 percent of the roughly 6,000 OVI cases in Franklin County each year result in OVI convictions. Those cases are almost always resolved with a guilty plea to the original charge. The city attorney’s office took only 16 OVI cases to jury trials last year.

Even defendants who plead guilty to a reduced charge often receive a sentence that includes the minimum penalties for an OVI conviction: three days in a driver-intervention program, a $375 fine plus court costs and a six-month license suspension. Most are given driving privileges for work, school or treatment programs.

The city attorney’s office typically insists on those penalties as part of plea agreements for reductions.

Even someone like William L. Howell, a Delaware resident who was convicted of four OVIs between 1994 and 2003, can cut a deal on OVI arrest No. 5. And he did, pleading guilty to reckless operation of a motor vehicle.

In 2005, a Franklin County judge sentenced Howell to probation and banned him from driving for almost a year. That allowed him to keep driving, after his license suspension ended, for six more years before he got two more OVI convictions.

Howell is in prison now and labeled one of the state’s habitual drunken drivers.

City prosecutors began tracking the reason for their OVI plea deals on Feb. 1 in an effort to gather more information about the outcomes of cases of drug-impaired driving. Since then, they’ve closed about 1,000 OVI cases. More than 30 percent of the defendants had been convicted of OVI before.

Each of the 15 municipal-court judges routinely accepts the guilty pleas and sentencing recommendations.

Judge Carrie E. Glaeden said prosecutors arrange the plea deals, and judges usually don’t know why a reduction was offered.

“I take prosecutors at their word,” she said. “If they don’t think they can make a case, I don’t ask why. They know how strong their evidence is and whether a case merits a reduction or not.”

Defense attorneys who specialize in OVI cases say poor police work, including improperly conducted field-sobriety or breath-alcohol tests, leads to reductions.

But another factor appears to have an even bigger effect: It is increasingly common for drivers to refuse to submit to breath, urine or blood tests. Without such a test, prosecutors are left to pursue an OVI charge without a key piece of evidence: the level of alcohol in the driver’s system.

In 2009, defendants refused chemical tests in 36 percent of the cases handled by city prosecutors. In 2013, it was 41 percent.

Since February, city prosecutors have reduced charges in about 215 cases. In 61 percent of those cases, the defendant had refused the tests, according to a Dispatch analysis of the prosecutors’ case data.

“I hate refusals,” Baker-Morrish said. “Our job is to build a brick wall, piece by piece. The defense’s job is to put a hole in the wall. With a refusal, you walk in there with a hole in the wall.”

Some defendants use the tactic as a way to plead guilty to lesser charges over and over.

Take Bennie Fornash, a 38-year-old Lewis Center resident. He has never been convicted of OVI.

But he was arrested and charged with impaired driving four times in Franklin County between 2005 and 2013. He was pulled over early in the morning at least twice after police said he was speeding (80 mph in a 45 mph zone, for example) and once for veering left of center.

Fornash refused the breath test in each of his past three cases. The case file is no longer available for the 2005 arrest. But in all four cases, the OVI charge was reduced to physical control of a vehicle while impaired or to reckless operation of a vehicle.

Fornash, through Sam Shamansky, his attorney, declined to comment.

Shamansky would not discuss the specifics of Fornash’s reductions but said, in general, that defendants who have a previous drunken-driving arrest “have a greater understanding about exercising their constitutional rights.”

Those who have been through the system are more likely “not to incriminate themselves by doing a bunch of ridiculous stunts by the side of the road that are all designed for failure, and not to submit to a chemical test,” Shamansky said.

Nothing in Ohio law requires drivers to submit to field sobriety tests — a series of physical tasks that include a one-legged stand and an eye test known as the horizontal gaze nystagmus. But the state legislature has created penalties for refusing to take the breath, urine or blood test.

In some cases when a driver refuses to take a test, particularly when the driver is involved in a fatal or potentially fatal crash, the arresting officer will obtain a warrant from a judge for a blood sample.

For a driver who has never been convicted of OVI, refusing to take a chemical test results in an automatic one-year license suspension.

If the driver submits to the breath test and his or her blood-alcohol level is at or above 0.08 percent, the result is a 90-day license suspension.

Arresting officers are required to explain this to drivers.

“What they don’t tell you is, if you’re convicted of OVI, there is a mandatory license suspension of six months to three years,” said Columbus defense attorney Daniel Sabol. “The 90-day benefit goes away. By wanting to have only a 90-day suspension, you’re giving the government the evidence they need to suspend your license for at least six months.”

Ultimately, the length of the license suspension can be increased or reduced through an agreement between the prosecution and defense, Sabol said.

For drivers with an OVI conviction in the previous 20 years, refusing to take the breath test is treated as a separate offense with a penalty that includes three days in jail. But they can’t be convicted of that secondary offense unless they are convicted of OVI.

In the 1,000 cases that Columbus prosecutors closed since February, they still managed to get OVI convictions of about half the defendants who refused the chemical tests.

Without a chemical test, it becomes a game of chess between prosecutors and defense attorneys. Prosecutors look to the other evidence: field sobriety tests, police officers’ reports about the arrestee’s appearance or behavior, and statements captured on a cruiser’s video and audio systems.

Defense attorneys try to poke holes in that evidence, jockeying for a plea deal.

Video can be “a beautiful thing” for a defense attorney hoping to get a reduction for a client, Sabol said. “You wouldn’t believe how often the video shows something not in the police report or that contradicts the police report.”

Jon Saia, another Columbus lawyer who specializes in OVI defense, said cruiser video “is so favorable to the defense it’s unbelievable.”

Reduced Charges

Sabol and Saia said mistakes by arresting officers, often captured on video, lead to reduced charges for many of their clients.

Both lawyers are trained as field sobriety-test instructors and in operating Ohio’s most-common breath-alcohol machine. They look for problems with how those tests are administered, which can lead judges to suppress evidence.

Saia estimated that he has reviewed as many as 1,000 videos of field sobriety tests.

“Never, not one single time, have I seen it done correctly,” he said.

All Columbus police officers take a 32-hour course in OVI enforcement that is required by the state, said Sgt. Michael Smith, who supervises training for impaired-driver enforcement for the Police Division. Additional courses are available for officers who want to develop a specialty in OVI enforcement.

“I would agree that, in the Columbus Division of Police, there are officers who have more training and are more proficient than their peers,” Smith said.

He disputes the notion that cruiser videos reveal that officers intentionally exaggerated or embellished signs of impairment in their written reports.

“The defense attorneys get the benefit of frame-by-frame dissection of something that happened to an officer in real time,” he said. “The officers’ perceptions are based on what’s going on in real time.”

Hiring an attorney isn’t required for those charged with drunken driving, but it’s a good idea, Franklin County Municipal Judge Anne Taylor said.

She frequently handles guilty pleas in arraignment court from OVI defendants representing themselves. In her 22 years on the bench, Taylor has seen the difference a good lawyer can make in an OVI case.

“There is a role for advocacy,” she said. “If you’re represented by someone who is not as persuasive, not as skilled, you probably won’t have as favorable an outcome.”

Defense attorneys who help clients get OVI charges reduced shouldn’t be portrayed as contributing to the problem of drunken driving, Sabol said. “We’re protecting the Constitution. We want law enforcement doing their jobs properly, and we want equipment that works. We don’t want officers cutting corners, denying people their rights or using faulty equipment.

“People complain about someone getting off on a technicality, but that’s called the Constitution of the United States of America.”

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This entry was posted on May 11, 2014.

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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This entry was posted on April 25, 2014.

Rooney hopes daughter’s legacy saves students

Father shares story with local teenagers

As Published April 24, 2014
Gannett News Service
Written by David Berman
Gazette Staff Writer

CHILLICOTHE — Flanked by photos of his late daughter and her crumpled SUV, Richard Rooney plumbed the depths of his family’s despair Wednesday.

Rooney recalled the night his daughter, Annie, was fatally injured in a head-on crash with a drunken driver on U.S. 50 outside of Chillicothe. His audience — Chillicothe High School juniors and seniors just days away from their prom — sat in stunned silence in the high school auditorium as he spared few details about her death and the devastation it wrought.

Dr. Richard Rooney, whose daughter, Annie Rooney, was killed by a drunk driver, talks with Chillicothe High School students about his loss and campaign for 'Annie's Law' ? proposed legislation to reduce the number of drunk driving deaths. Rooney's appearance Wednesday came during the school's Teen Institute's Prom Promise/Think assembly in the auditorium.

Dr. Richard Rooney, whose daughter, Annie Rooney, was killed by a drunk driver, talks with Chillicothe High School students about his loss and campaign for ‘Annie’s Law’ ? proposed legislation to reduce the number of drunk driving deaths. Rooney’s appearance Wednesday came during the school’s Teen Institute’s Prom Promise/Think assembly in the auditorium.

“I stand before you the grieving father of Annie Rooney,” he said. “My plea is that the killing and dying must stop.”

The 36-year-old Rooney was returning home from a friend’s house July 4, 2013, when her Lincoln Navigator was struck by a drunken driver who was traveling at an estimated 80 mph and whose blood alcohol content was about twice the legal limit. Her father, meanwhile, was taking part in a Bible study group.“

Little did I know, my daughter was three miles away, dying in a crushed car,” he said.

Rooney said he and his wife rushed to the hospital to find Annie “barely clinging to life.” They rode with her in an ambulance from Adena Medical Center to Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, but her injuries were too severe, the time she spent trapped in her vehicle too prolonged. At 1:30 a.m., some four and a half hours after the crash, her heart stopped.

A retired surgeon, Richard Rooney had held hundreds of lives in his hands and saved many of them, but there was nothing he could do for his daughter.

“This was the worst experience I’d ever had, but the worst was yet to come,” he said.

Rooney’s grandchildren arrived the next day for what was supposed to be a three-week visit with their aunt Annie as the star attraction. When he told his 11-year-old grandson what happened to his beloved aunt, the boy collapsed to the kitchen floor and sobbed.

Annie’s death has been “a catastrophic tragedy for the family” — “a nightmare that won’t go away,” he said.

Her bedroom and office remain undisturbed with her personal effects in “cluttered, unsorted piles.” Every morning, Rooney said he has to confront the reality that she’s gone.“

For a long time, all I wanted to do was get in the grave with her, as if I could talk to her,” he said.As the Rooneys continue to grapple with their loss, they have turned to political activism in an effort to prevent other families from experiencing what they’ve gone through.

They are pushing for a law — Annie’s Law — that would require all OVI offenders, including first-time offenders, to have ignition interlock devices installed in their vehicles. A vehicle outfitted with an ignition interlock device will not start if it detects alcohol on the driver’s breath.Rooney likened traumatic drunken driving deaths to diseases such as small pox or polio.“

Preventing it is much cheaper, simpler and safer than treating the consequences,” he said.Rooney said the bill is on the cusp of being passed by the Ohio House of Representatives. He urged the students to write lawmakers in support of the legislation.

“I’m not here only to tell my story, but to ask for your help,” he said.

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This entry was posted on April 24, 2014.

Sponsor Testimony to the Ohio House of Representatives Judiciary Committee

21 March, 2014

Yesterday, Wednesday 19 March 2014, I was delighted to give sponsor testimony before the Ohio House Judiciary Committee on what I hope will someday soon be known as Annie’s Law. Here is the testimony that I provided:

Chairman Butler, Vice-Chair Pelanda, Ranking Member Stinziano, and members of the House Judiciary Committee: thank you for the opportunity to present sponsor testimony on House Bill 469, Annie’s Law. Annie’s Law requires that first time OVI offenders be required to use an ignition interlock device for the 6 month period of their suspension. Under current law this is permissive; the sentencing judge may require the offender to use the ignition interlock device (IID) if he or she deems it appropriate. Under this bill, all offenders will be using this device. Once they are arrested and charged, they will be required to use the IID in order to legally drive. This will be in effect throughout their trial, and if convicted, they will have to continue to use the IID throughout their suspension.

Part of the reason we introduced this bill is because we do not believe enough first time offenders are required to use this device. According to the Newark Advocate, in 2013, the Ohio Highway Patrol cited more than 24,000 people with operating a vehicle while under the influence, but only 2,407 people were using ignition interlock devices in July. Frankly, this is far too few. In December of 2012, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that states “require ignition interlocks for all DWI offenders.” They also cited that only one in four offenders have one installed. On top of that, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, between 50 to 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive on a suspended license. We need to do something about this.

Annie Rooney

Our current laws contain an ineffective system of limited driving privileges. The offender first has a period of 15 days where he or she cannot drive at all. Then he or she can obtain limited driving privileges from the judge to go to certain places such as class, work, and doctor’s appointments but only at certain times. There is nothing to ensure compliance and nothing to ensure sobriety unless they happen to get caught again. By contrast, the Center for Disease Control found that ignition interlocks are effective in reducing repeat drunk driving offenses by 67 percent. House Bill 469 will eliminate the 15 day hard suspension and replace the needlessly complex and unenforceable system of regulating who can drive when and where by implementing a simpler system where an offender can drive anywhere anytime so long as they use the IID. This allows the offender to continue working and to minimize disruption to his life while ensuring public safety to the extent that we are reasonably able to do so. In short, it’s the best of both worlds.

This bill is dedicated to a wonderful young lady who was taken from us far too soon. Annie Rooney was the model citizen; she graduated from Brown University before going to law school. She then was a prosecuting attorney in Bozeman, Montana where she aggressively prosecuted domestic violence while serving as the Assistant Music Director for a local radio station. She then moved back to her hometown of Chillicothe to open her own law practice. She was killed by a drunk driver on July 5th of last year. Since then, her family has worked with Mothers Against Drunk Driving in their cause to reduce the number of casualties to this horrible tragedy that occurs far too often. This issue is the most glaringly needed change to Ohio’s OVI laws which is why this effort and this bill is in her honor and her memory. We would ask you all for your support.

Once again, Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of Annie’s Law, HB 469. We would be happy to answer any questions.

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This entry was posted on March 21, 2014.

‘Annie’s Law’ lobbying begins

Bill sponsor testifies at House hearing

Mar. 20, 2014
Gannett News Service
Written by The Gazette staff

COLUMBUS — Discussion on a proposed law named for a local attorney killed in a drunk driving crash began Wednesday and will continue today as Mothers Against Drunk Driving representatives meet with lawmakers.

One of the sponsors for Annie’s Law, House Bill 469, Rep. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, offered testimony during an initial judiciary hearing at the state House of Representatives, outlining a need for an increased use of ignition interlock devices for all drunken drivers. He noted that the National Transportation Safety Board recommends it.

“Part of the reason we introduced this bill is because we do not believe enough first-time offenders are required to use this device. According to the Newark Advocate, in 2013, the Ohio Highway Patrol cited more than 24,000 people with operating a vehicle while under the influence, but only 2,407 people were using ignition interlock devices in July. Frankly, this is far too few,” Johnson said.

Johnson noted that the Centers for Disease Control has reported the device, which requires a driver to breathe into it before the car will start, has been effective in reducing repeat drunk driving offenses. Currently, 20 states, including West Virginia, require ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers.

“House Bill 469 will eliminate the 15-day hard suspension and replace the needlessly complex and unenforceable system of regulating who can drive when and where by implementing a simpler system where an offender can drive anywhere anytime so long as they use the IID. This allows the offender to continue working and to minimize disruption to his life while ensuring public safety to the extent that we are reasonably able to do so. In short, it’s the best of both worlds,” he said.

The bill is the result of efforts started by Annie Rooney’s family, especially her siblings, that began soon after the July 4 crash that killed her. The family connected with MADD as part of its efforts and Johnson, a family friend, as it sought sponsors for the legislation, which also is sponsored by Rep. Gary Scherer, R-Circleville.

“Annie’s entire family is focused on preventing another family from going through this senseless, preventable, loss of life on our roads,” said Walt Rooney, Annie’s brother. “Drunk drivers kill hundreds of Ohioians every year just like Annie, and we must do more to stop them. Drunk driving is a public health crisis and we are focused on standing with our legislators to have Ohio join the over 20 states that have made ignition interlocks mandatory for first time offenders.”

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This entry was posted on March 20, 2014.

Bill requires breath-test device for first-time OVI offenders

Rooney family a driving force behind proposed change

Mar. 7, 2014
Written by Jessie Balmert

The family of a beloved Chillicothe attorney killed by a drunken driver wants everyone convicted of driving impaired to have their breath tested before they drive.

Ohio law requires ignition interlock devices for repeat drunken drivers, but the family of Annie Rooney wants the device installed for first-time offenders as well. The device requires drivers to blow into a breathalyzer, which calculates blood-alcohol concentration, and will prevent the vehicle from starting if the driver tests higher than the preset limit, usually 0.025 BAC.

“It’s like having an electronic probation officer in the front seat,” said Doug Scoles, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Ohio.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, and Rep. Gary Scherer, R-Circleville, on Thursday, is called Annie’s Law in memory of 36-year-old Annie Rooney, who died after colliding with drunken driver Shira Seymour on July 4 in Ross County. Last month, Seymour was sentenced to the maximum eight years in prison for Rooney’s death.

“This is an incremental step that will save lives,” said Annie’s father, Rick Rooney. “We’ve worked very hard to move it forward.”

The Rooneys have worked with legislators, including family friend Terry Johnson, to craft the bill since last fall. The proposed language would allow convicted drunken drivers to choose between using the ignition interlock device or not driving during their six-month suspension, Scoles said.

Judges also could require ignition interlock devices for people seeking driving privileges while awaiting trial, Scoles said. The bill would remove the mandatory 15-day license suspension for people who use ignition interlock devices.

Offenders would rent the devices for about $2.50 a day or $500 for a six-month probation, said Frank Harris, MADD’s state legislative affairs manager. People who can’t afford the fee could have it paid through the indigent fund, which contains fees from people convicted of operating a vehicle while under the influence.

MADD officials hope the incentive of driving, even with a device, will outweigh a suspended license. The device teaches people with alcohol problems how to drive responsibly, Scoles said.

The devices are not easily tricked. Many have cameras to record who is blowing into the device and require additional tests after the vehicle is started, Harris said.

Probation officers, who are in charge of monitoring the devices, support the effort to reduce drunken driving, but are concerned about the added work of overseeing more devices, checking equipment and investigating additional violations, said Craig Barry, president of the Ohio Chief Probation Officers Association.

Last year, the Ohio Highway Patrol cited more than 24,000 people with operating a vehicle while under the influence, but only 2,407 individuals were using ignition interlock devices in July. If devices are used for first-time offenders, those numbers could skyrocket.

Another concern is whether county indigent funds would have enough money to pay for all first-time offenders who cannot afford the device, Barry said.

Tim Huey, a Columbus attorney who specializes in OVI defense, said the expense for drivers will far outweigh the benefit of catching people who are unlikely to reoffend during the six-month probation. The devices can be prone to malfunction as well, he said.

“It’s an awful lot of cost and inconvenience for the window of opportunity for it to work,” Huey said.

However, people using ignition interlock devices were about 67 percent less likely to be rearrested than drivers with suspended licenses, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention review of 15 studies. The devices are a deterrent for the more than 50 percent of convicted drunk drivers who continue to drive even with suspended licenses, according to MADD.

“So many go out and drive anyway,” Rick Rooney said. “We view this as a public health catastrophe.”

In December, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advised states to adopt its model on ignition interlock devices, which included use for first-time offenders.

Twenty states allow ignition interlock devices for first-time drunk drivers, according to MADD. Another 14 states require devices for first-time offenders with a blood-alcohol concentration ranging from 0.1 to 0.18. Michigan requires devices for people with a high BAC and Indiana recently proposed a law similar to Annie’s Law, Harris said.

“Ohio is getting a little behind the ball by having a completely optional law,” Harris said.

Making Ohio roads a little safer will help the Rooney family honor their daughter, who was universally liked and respected, Scherer said.

“This is a small way for us to remember her and help have some little bit of good come out of this tragedy,” he said.
Twitter: @jbalmert

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This entry was posted on March 7, 2014.

Ohio family presents law honoring woman killed by drunk driver

Law adds mandatory ignition device to all DUI offender’s cars

Mar 06, 2014
As aired on NBC News

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio —An Ohio family is on a mission to get the vehicles of all DUI offenders changed in an effort to save lives.

Eight months ago Annie Rooney was killed by a drunk driver in Chillicothe.

At the time of the accident the driver’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit.

The driver had been arrested at least 5 times before for driving drunk. She was sentenced to eight years in prison in February for Rooney’s death.

Rooney’s family is pushing the state to adopt Annie’s Law, which would require an interlock ignition device on the vehicles of all DUI offenders.

The device would prevent the car engine from starting if the driver fails a Breathalyzer test.

The Rooney family was in Cincinnati on Thursday as lawmakers discussed the bill.

“It’s really the only thing that keeps our family going during this dark time. Without our vision and our hope that this could save other people, the grief and the horror we’ve been through, I don’t think we could cope,” Annie’s brother Walt Rooney said.

“Everybody has an Annie. Everybody has a son, a daughter, a brother a sister, a mom and dad.”

The current law allows a judge to require drunk drivers to use an ignition interlock device, but Annie’s Law would make it mandatory even for first-time offenders.

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This entry was posted on March 6, 2014.

Annie’s Law Aims To Limit Drunk Driving Deaths In Ohio

Link to download PDF: MADD_Support_For_Annies_Law

By Chuck Strickler
CBS News, Channel 10, Columbus
Tuesday March 4, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Legislation is moving forward that supporters say could drastically cut the number of drunk driving deaths in the state of Ohio.

It’s called Annie’s Law, named after a young, local attorney who was tragically killed by a drunk driver last July.

“That’s what really the thrust and purpose of our efforts are – to stop the killing and stop the dying,” said Rick Rooney, Annie’s father.

The Rooney family does not want any other family to live through their nightmare of last July.

Annie Rooney was struck and killed by a drunk driver with a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit.

Her father says writing Annie’s Law is the best way to memorialize his daughter.

“We believe that this law is not a radical change but a furtherance of activities that will help minimize the risk, and we believe will save, just in the state of Ohio, 50 to 100 lives a year,” Rooney said.

The legislation centers on the use of the ignition interlock breathalyzer device. An equipped vehicle won’t start if the blood alcohol content is above the legal limit after the person blows into the device.

Current law allows a judge to require a first time offender convicted of drunk driving to use the device, but this bill would make it mandatory.

The legislation would also give the judge discretion to require the device even for someone arrested for d-u-i.

“It just seems like the right thing to do,” said State Representative Gary Scherer, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “The sooner we get it into law the better, so we can start saving lives.”

“This is nothing draconian, but it is I think a significant advance as a safety device, for the public and the drivers themselves,” added Rooney.

An appeal for additional sponsors for Annie’s Law is already circulating through the statehouse. Sponsors hope to have the bill assigned to a committee by next week, with final passage by the end of the legislative session.

Thirty-six states already have legislation that requires the use of ignition interlock devices on the first d-u-i conviction.

Besides saving lives, the Center for Disease Control says the devices have also helped reduce repeat drunk driving offenses by 67 percent.

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This entry was posted on March 4, 2014.