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Serial drunk drivers: Is the justice system too lenient?

1:32 AM, Jul 9, 2013   |    comments
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  • WKYC.com Special Coverage | Drunk Driving in Ohio
  • CLEVELAND -- Ohio has the third highest number in America of serial drunk drivers who are legally allowed to drive.

    We take a closer look at how the state handles repeat offenders.

    It's a Thursday night in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland's east side.

    WKYC.com Special Coverage | Drunk Driving in Ohio

    "Welcome to our OVI checkpoint," said a state trooper to a driver, who was randomly pulled over along St. Clair Avenue.

    About a dozen troopers from the Ohio Highway Patrol are here, looking for drunk drivers. Every night they are out there on the roads, again and again, until they're caught.

    "Oh, we have a keeper!" declared one trooper, as he watched the driver pull forward. "He's definitely a keeper."

    Sometimes, troopers will see the worst kind of drunk driver. After arrests, fines, and convictions -- nothing seems enough.

    We found a Cuyahoga Falls man with 12 OVI convictions, a Hudson man with 18 convictions, and a Springfield man was arrested a reported 34 times on drunk driving charges.

    These are the type of chronic drunk drivers who are playing Russian Roulette with other people's lives.

    "Eleven OVI's. The 12th one killed my daughter," said Joyce Chamberlain, whose daughter was killed by a repeat drunk driver.

    By all accounts, Grace Chamberlain,18, lived her life just like her first name.

    In 2006, as the Hiram College student was headed to the store with her classmate, Andy Hopkins, 18, James Cline plowed his pickup truck into their car.

    Both teens were killed. For Chamberlain's mother, the heartbreak never goes away.

    "It's always there. It's always there."

    And sometimes, there is anger.

    Every time she hears about a serial drunk driver in the news, it reminds her of those painful days in court, watching James Cline on trial for aggravated vehicular homicide.

    "I asked the bailiff, 'How does someone with 11 OVI's be out here driving?' And one response I got was, 'Well, we didn't know what he did in other counties. We didn't know how many OVI's he had.'"

    But when they do the crime, do they do the time?

    "This is a class of crime that, in my experience, we need to lock these people up to keep us safe," said Portage County Prosecutor Vic Vigluicci.

    He says he's frustrated with Ohio laws that seemingly give repeat offenders a break.

    Ohio has what's called a 6-year "look back," a provision that allows a drunk driver to avoid facing elevated charges for a repeat offense if the first offense happened more than 6 years ago.

    In other words -- Don't get caught for 6 years and it's like you've never been caught before.

    At random, we pulled the court records of repeat offender Jeffrey Lloyd, of Ravenna. According to court documents, Lloyd has been arrested 13 times on drunk driving charges since 1993.

    Thanks to plea deals and the 6-year "look back" law, his seventh arrest for drunk driving in 2000 netted only a 30-day jail sentence.

    Finally, after Lloyd's 13th arrest for drunk driving in 2011, a Portage County judge sentenced him to 2 years in prison.

    How many times does it take for someone to get prison time?

    "Unfortunately, it's sometimes, not until someone is hurt or killed," said Vigluicci.

    For the death of Grace Chamberlain, James Cline is serving a 38-year prison sentence.

    "I think it has to be consistent," said Joyce Chamberlain. "I think you have to know that if you're going to make that choice, and that mistake, you are going to be held responsible."

    Amid the peaceful serenity of the North Chagrin Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks, Chamberlain often visits and sits on the memorial bench for her daughter.

    It reads, "Always smiling, Always Amazing. Grace J. Chamberlain."

    "She tells me to go on and be happy," her mother said, with tears filling her eyes.

    "Any chance to say her name, and to try to tell people..." as her voice breaks from emotion.

    "It's just too much to lose. That's why I do it."

    WKYC-TV

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