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Victims' relatives angered at DUI offender's short sentence

We wrote earlier in the month about an alleged drunk driver who pleaded guilty to charges surrounding a fatal crash in Thompson Falls. Court proceedings this week have resolved that case, with the man who caused the car accident receiving a plea deal that could allow him to leave prison in just two-and-a-half years. The decision has angered the victims' relatives, who argue that drunk drivers who kill people should receive more severe punishment.

The man caused the fatal accident on Sept. 8, when he crossed the centerline and smashed into the victims' vehicle head-on. He had been convicted of at least one previous drunk-driving offense, according to authorities. The suspect pleaded guilty to four felonies, including two counts of vehicular homicide while under the influence.

Family members may not be satisfied with the criminal proceedings related to the case, but they can levy their own punishment against the driver who killed their loved ones. Instead of relying on the criminal courts for justice, family members should turn to civil courts, where the burden of proof for negligence and other claims is significantly less stringent.

Relatives could sue the man for wrongful death, along with pain and suffering, loss of consort and a variety of other charges. In other words, they could hit the man where it really hurts: his pocketbook. A civil victory could allow family members to feel vindicated for their relatives' untimely deaths.

Attorneys in the case say that the man received a proportionately harsher sentence than many others who face similar charges. The 45-year-old school board member will be under state supervision until age 75, and a single mistake could send him directly back to prison. Although the majority of the man's sentence will be suspended under the existing plea deal, he will still face punishment for the majority of his natural life, according to lawyers in the case.

Source: The Billings Gazette, "Sentence angers parents of Thompson Falls DUI crash victim," Vince Devlin, Jan. 18, 2013

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