CHICAGO (CBS) — A loophole in Wisconsin law is keeping drunk and dangerous drivers on the road. Now a woman whose son was killed by a man who took advantage of that loophole is fighting to fix it.
CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey dug into the case.
The Illinois-Wisconsin state line is invisible. Drivers might not even notice it. But for Sheila Lockwood, it was the difference between a painful tragedy – which would be bad enough – and a nightmare.
“They said: ‘We’re really sorry. It’s your son, Austin,’” Lockwood said.
Her son, Austin, was killed last year in crash in Three Lakes, Wisconsin. He was just 23.
Behind the wheel was Eric Labahn of Mount Prospect, who had just reached the legal drinking age at 21. Labahn refused to take a blood alcohol test at the scene.
That decision should have led to the suspension of his license, according to both Illinois and Wisconsin law.
But more than a year after he was charged with a drunken-driving related homicide, Labahn was still driving – legally.
“Illinois did not receive notification that the crime had happened,” Lockwood said.
The Illinois Secretary of State’s Office tells the CBS 2 Investigators it never got a notice about the drunken driving crash that took Austin’s life.
Labhan’s driver’s license remained valid until he surrendered it, voluntarily, to get a new one in Wisconsin. There, he was allowed to keep driving for more than a year.
One driver, one license, one record – that is the case for the 45 states that share information about license suspensions. Illinois is one of those states. But Wisconsin is not.
And as the CBS 2 Investigators found out, that is how Labahn was able to get away with everything.
The Driver License Compact was created in 1966. Illinois joined in 1970.
More than a half century later, many of the Wisconsin legislators to whom we reached out didn’t even know what the compact was, or why Wisconsin never joined.
So with a valid Wisconsin license in his wallet, Labahn kept driving. But apparently, he did not keep driving very carefully.
We discovered that after Labahn was convicted and awaiting sentencing for killing Austin Lockwood, he got pulled over and ticketed for distracted driving with a cell phone.
“Now he’s not only a drunk driver, he’s a distracted driver,” Sheila Lockwood said.
Illinois State Rep. Thomas Weber (R-Lake Villa) is Lockwood’s representative.
Desperate for a solution, she turned to him for help – and he pinpointed the problem.
“There’s this loophole to where if you’re an Illinois resident … and you get a DUI in Wisconsin, or kill someone in a car crash, or anything like that, there’s no really mechanism, automatic mechanism, that has them contact us,” Weber said.
Wisconsin joining the Driver License Compact could be the solution. Because of Austin’s story, Weber is reaching across state lines to Wisconsin state Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) to push for legislation that would bring Wisconsin into the agreement.
“No family in the state of Illinois or Wisconsin should have to go through that,” Weber said.
Sheila Lockwood says she won’t give up until that happens, because she thinks that’s what Austin would have wanted.
“This is this will never end,” she said. “I don’t have Austin.”
Apart from setting his sights on the Driver License Compact, Wisconsin Rep. Ott is currently sponsoring five different bills that would strengthen DUI laws in his state.
Labahn was sentenced to three years in prison earlier this month. Until he was taken into handcuffs nearly a year and a half after Austin’s death, he had not spent a single night in jail.