Fairbanks group plans to combat drunken driving

Posted: Tuesday, August 09, 2005

FAIRBANKS - A string of fatal drunken driving accidents this year prompted Goldstream Valley residents to hold a meeting where they discussed tougher laws and enforcement, as well as drunken drivers' unwillingness to admit they are criminals.

Alcohol-related driving deaths killed several people in the valley and the Fairbanks area this year, including 13-year-old Saul Stutz, who was struck while riding his bike along Goldstream Road.

Residents, including lawmakers, parents, teachers and one of Stutz's friends, gathered on Sunday at the Ken Kunkel Community Center to discuss the problem.

People spoke about DUI laws in other states that help curb drunken driving, including marking the license plates and drivers licenses of convicted drunken drivers, forcing drunken drivers into treatment and increasing funds for enforcement.

Sue Heinrichs, who helped plan the meeting, said several states make a second DUI offense a felony rather than waiting until the third offense, as Alaska does.

The dozen or so residents at the meeting also discussed the possibility of sobriety checkpoints and staking out bars with a citizen watch.

Thirteen-year-old Carmen Klooster said she and her friends were fed up with adults who are supposed to be responsible, but choose to drink and drive.

"They shouldn't always be given a second chance," said Klooster, who was friends with Stutz.

Billy Brown, a former employee of Northstar Center, where many convicted drunken drivers serve out their sentences, said those convicted of drunken driving would often complain about being incarcerated with "criminals."

"There's no criminal mindset about DUI," Brown said.

The group drew up a schedule for people to write letters to the editors to keep the issue in the public and planned to check on drafting voter initiatives and communicate with lawmakers.

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