If you're wondering how in the world 72-year-old Karren Erecius was able to drive her car on Monday evening, you're not alone.
After all, the Larkfield-area resident was allegedly so drunk that she'd fallen down in her apartment, opening up a wound on her head, according to Randi Rossmann's account in today's paper based on CHP reports. Then she got into her car and didn't even make it out of her parking lot before running into a parked vehicle.
But it wasn't her apparent alcohol-induced impairment that should have prevented her from getting behind the wheel of her Volvo. It was her record.
Erecius has been arrested six times in the past nine years on drunken driving charges. She was convicted in 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2007. Her most recent arrest &#8211; for felony drunken driving &#8211; was less than a month ago.
So, how in the world was she able to drive her car on Monday evening?
This case brings to mind the tale of Joseph Lynchard, the 72-year-old six-time drunken driver who in 2005 struck and killed Kathryn Black as she stood stopped with her bike on the shoulder of Mark West Springs Road. Erecius, thankfully, didn't hurt anyone &#8211; but only because she and everyone who shared the road with her was very lucky.
Lynchard's case caused a lot of questions in the community and introspection in law enforcement circles about the legal system's failure to take a chronic drunken driver off the road. Fingers were pointed and excuses were made, but the bottom line appeared to be that because Lynchard's history of driving drunk spanned a 20-year period, the system wasn't able to connect the dots. He was charged as a "first offender" at least three times. The harshest penalty he faced &#8211; before he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Black's case &#8211; was 30 days in jail.
But things had changed in 2005, we were told at the time. No longer did anyone receive leniency for drunken driving. And with computers keeping track of driving records, repeat offenders would no longer slip through the cracks.
So, how in the world was Erecius able to drive her car on Monday evening?
Suspending or restricting a driver's license, which is the typical response after a DUI arrest, clearly doesn't keep a habitual drunken driver from using his or her car. Lynchard and Erecius aren't the only examples of this. On the same weekend that Erecius was arrested last month, the CHP arrested Jorge Medina Monroy, 26, of Windsor, who previously had been convicted of DUI in 2006, 2007 and 2011. In 2010, William Beall, 65, of Oakmont, was in the news after officers with a DUI task force knocked on his door and arrested him for probation violation after finding alcohol in his freezer. At the time, Beall was on probation after being convicted of DUI offenses 19 times.
That's not a typo. Nineteen times.
Statistics show that most drivers arrested for DUI get it &#8211; about 75 percent never are arrested again. But there are still quite a few chronic offenders out there, and we haven't found a way to keep them from liquoring up and then sliding behind the wheel of a vehicle.
Which puts all of us &#8211; drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, men, women, children &#8211; at risk on our roads.