A Neosho woman and a Joplin couple who lost loved ones to the acts of a drunk driver testified before a Missouri House committee Wednesday.
Betty Dodson, Neosho, and her daughter Amy Mann, and son-in-law Michael Mann, told the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee how Mrs. Dodson's husband, James, and the Manns' eight-year-old daughter Jessica were killed when drunk driver Edward Meerwald veered off Highway 86 and struck them while they were in their driveway picking up the mail, killing both of them.
Meerwald received only 14 years in prison after pleading guilty to an involuntary manslaughter charge.
Mrs. Dodson and the Manns were testifying for a Senate Bill sponsored by Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, that would stiffen the penalties for drunk driving. Nodler's bill has been combined with other Senate bills and passed that body last week. Among the provisions of the bill:
-Prohibits property owners from allowing minors to drink on their property. Violators would be guilty of a misdemeanor.
-Any person under 21 who buys or attempts to buy liquor would be guilty of a misdemeanor. A minor would also be guilty of minor in possession if they have a blood alcohol content of .02.
-Causing a death while operating a motor vehicle would remain a Class C felony, but a Class B sentence could be imposed.
-It would be a Class B felony if the driver causes the death of a person who is not a passenger, causes the death of two or more persons, or causes the death of any person while driving with a blood alcohol content of at least .18 but not more than .24.
-If the person has a blood alcohol content of more than .24, the crime is elevated to a Class A felony and those convicted must serve at least 85 percent of their sentence.
-Anyone who is convicted of violating these laws while having a passenger who is younger than 17 will be guilty of endangering the welfare of a child in the second degree.
-Strengthens state laws against persistent and chronic drunk drivers.
The Manns and Mrs. Dodson were introduced to the Missouri Senate by Nodler on Wednesday.