WAUSAU (WAOW) -- There's not a day that goes by that Steve Meinel doesn't think about his daughter Lacey. This 14-year-old former DC Everest student with a bright future died in 2009, when her car was struck by a drunk driver. She was down in Madison the night before, doing one of the many things she excelled at… figure skating.
"You know she played soccer, she was in National Junior Honor Society, she was very involved in 4H, you know she had 40 or 50 entries in 4H, so she was seen a lot down there, she had her cake review, she had her skating, all of that, you know growing flowers," Meinel said.
Lacey no longer has the chance to be a figure skater, a pastry chef, a master gardener, or anything else she discovers she was meant to do.
Unfortunately, this scenario is an all too familiar one in Wisconsin. Alcohol-related crashes killed 238 people and injured another four thousand in 2009.
After Lacey's death, friends and family members were instrumental in pushing forward new legislation. They took up meetings with former Governor Jim Doyle, and they were there when he signed the bill, strengthening the OWI laws in 2009. But is that enough to deter the public from drinking and driving?
Last week, Marathon County Judge Vincent Howard heard two cases where a subject was charged with a fifth OWI. One of them was 42-year-old Bryan Kaseno of Wausau, who previously served prison time when he was intoxicated and his car hit and killed a woman on a bicycle. Howard sentenced him to three years in prison, the most allowed under current law.
Howard says, "I find the amount frustrating I guess because you get to the fifth offense, and it's a very serious offense by that time, because the guy obviously has a very serious problem. He's an alcoholic, he's proven in the past that the treatment he's received in the past hasn't helped him, so it seems like three years, he hardly gets the treatment in the prison system and if it was somewhat higher, the judge would probably have more discretion."
For comparison's sake, let's stack up Wisconsin's laws against bordering states. For a first offense, the Badger State is the only one where jail time is not considered. In Michigan, you can get up to 93 days in jail and have your license suspended. In Iowa, you spend two days in jail automatically. In Illinois, in addition to possible jail time, your license is suspended for a year.
Now, let's look at the laws for a fifth drunk driving conviction. In Minnesota, after the third conviction, each one is a felony, and you can receive up to seven years in prison. In Iowa, after two convictions, it's a minimum $3,100 fine, 30 days in jail, and six year license suspension. In Michigan, after two convictions, in addition to the jail time, your license plates are taken away and your vehicle is immobilized for 90 to 180 days. In Wisconsin, the jail time compares favorably with some states during later violations, but Steve Meinel says the message should be sent sooner.
"There has to be social aspects of it that have a more significant impact on people, whether it might be they lose their driving privileges for a year," he says. "That might be something that catches people's attention. It might be that they have their car confiscated for a period of time where they're not able to drive."
It may take a drastic change to have an effect. Wisconsin has the highest rate of drunken driving in the nation. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 26 percent of adults in the state admit to driving under the influence, and that decision could lead to a lifetime of heartbreak.
Thinking back on his daughter's life, Meinel says "Everything that she touched was part of our life, and was also part of the lives of everyone else, and that's gone. It's gone. There's nothing we can do to change that. You never get over it. We can only hope that the pain is less at some point, but the process that we went through, we hope there is a significant impact on the other kids, her friends that she hung around with."