Alleged drunken driver enters innocent plea
My jaw dropped when I read the article about Laura Stidolph in the Empire on Jan. 14. Here's a woman being charged with three counts of third-degree assault, failing to render assistance after an accident, drunken driving, refusal to submit to a breath test and disorderly conduct, and Judge Larry Weeks allowed her to go on a family vacation to Thailand for three weeks! Now there's a powerful message to potential drunk drivers in Juneau!
Let me guess what comes next - Laura goes to her drug and alcohol rehab program (although she denied being drunk when she pleaded innocent to the charges against her, so why the rehab?), the court hears what a lovely girl she is when she is not assaulting police officers, and Judge Weeks gives her a couple of hours of community service. Justice is served and Laura walks away with the lesson of a lifetime - actions have no consequences here in The Last Frontier.
Youthful mistake or not, drunken driving is a crime I find inexcusable. We all know it is wrong to operate a vehicle under the influence, and contrary to what Julie Flint might believe, there are many of us who have never gotten behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated.
Every Friday I read the FYI section of the Empire and am appalled to see drunk driver after drunk driver get handed sentences that look like this: "John Doe was found guilty of drunk driving. Judge Lenient sentenced him to pay a $500 fine with $250 suspended, 33 days in jail with 30 days suspended, a 90-day drivers license revocation, JASAP, and placed him on probation for two years with the standard conditions of release. Other charges against him were dismissed."
We continue to read news stories about people who are being charged with DUI for the second, third, fourth or fifth times. Maybe these light sentences for first offenses are not effective. In 1975 Alaska Attorney Avrum Gross banned plea bargaining in the state, but "charge bargaining" and "sentence bargaining" are still common practices. Maybe these practices are also not effective against drunken driving.
I'll be curious to see if Laura Stidolph goes to jail for five years for her assault charges or 10 years for failing to give assistance, or is made to pay more than $160,000 in fines. And if not, whether we will see her name in the paper in the future for another drunk driving arrest.
Mary G. Cook