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Riverside Police Chief Wants Stiffer Punishment For Habitual Drunk Drivers

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RIVERSIDE, Ill. (CBS) – After a man whose license has been revoked seven times in the past was arrested for drunk driving for the fourth time last weekend, Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said it was the last straw.

WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports Weitzel has called on state lawmakers to toughen up on repeat DUI offenders.

Weiitzel said, despite reductions in drunk driving, approximately 10 percent of those driving between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. on a given Friday night are legally intoxicated.

“First of all, a lot of them don’t put their headlights on. That’s an indication. Two o’clock in the morning, nobody has headlights on? They weave in and out of their own lane; cross the double yellow,” he said. “Some of them are just plain driving recklessly. Just weaving and speeding.”

WBBM 780’s John Cody

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WBBM 780/105.9FM

He called it an epidemic, and urged the Illinois General Assembly to increase penalties for repeat DUI offenders, including automatic confiscation of the vehicle involved.

The chief said he was inspired to speak out by the Sunday’s arrest of a Lemont man spotted weaving in and out of traffic, and speeding down the outermost parking lane.

“The driver, he admitted that he was driving on a revoked license for three prior DUIs, and then he made the statement to the officer that he was actually on his way home, when stopped, from a court-ordered mandated counseling session from a DUI that he had in Woodridge,” Weitzel said.

He said breath alcohol ignition interlock devices, which prevent drunk driving in a particular car, are easily defeated if a DUI convict simply buys a new car, borrows someone else’s, or rents one.

“Sometimes defendants will have a company car, for example, or they can go rent a car from a car dealership,” he said.

Weitzel said Riverside police have arrested some convicted drunk drivers who were able to rent cars, despite restrictions on their license.

The chief pointed out, of Riverside’s 163 revoked license arrests last year, more than half were based DUI convictions.

“Thirty-nine percent of them had multiple DUI convictions, and they keep on driving,” he said.

Weitzel pledged to confiscate all vehicles seized in DUI arrests, and to start civil forfeiture proceedings to get the point across.

He was trying to round up legislative support for stiffer punishment for repeat drunk drivers.

“The solution is to get a felony statute that’ll make these individuals fall under a habitual offender statute that’ll require mandatory prison sentence, and automatic revocation of your driving privileges for a minimum of 10 years upon the third conviction,” he said.

Under current state law, a third DUI conviction is punishable by 3 to 7 years in prison, but a judge has the option of ordering probation instead. A 10-year license revocation also is up to the judge’s discretion. Weitzel said he wants both to become automatic.

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