Under a new state law, Missouri has committed to getting tougher on repeat DWI offenders. I have always said that everyone deserves a second chance. In some isolated instances, perhaps a third chance is a possibility. But there are only so many ways to change behavior and repeated slaps on the wrist will never work.
Well, the new law may soon see some impact. A western Missouri man facing his fifth alcohol-related driving arrest may be spending considerable time behind bars. He could even face life for his latest driving while intoxicated conviction.
Joseph Townsend of Henry County was found guilty last week of DWI. He is by any definition a chronic offender. In addition to four pervious drunk driving convictions, Townsend has two other felony convictions.
Because he is a prior and persistent felon, Townsend is eligible - under the new law - for some hefty prison time. He could go to prison for 10-30 years or even life, depending on the circumstances.
This case is not a matter of making an example of Townsend. This case is not about sending a signal to other potential offenders of the seriousness of their crime. This case is about protecting the citizens of Missouri from those who willingly and persistently drive while drunk. This case is about our children and their children being safe on the roadways and being protected from the likes of Townsend.
It will be December before the court decides his punishment. If alcoholism is indeed a disease, then the general public needs protection from Townsend and others who cannot or will not get the help they need.
I couldn't care less if Townsend is a lifelong alcoholic. I care about his decision to get behind the wheel of a vehicle and travel the streets and highways of this or any other state. If he wants to kill himself while driving drunk, then that's his decision. But if he threatens the life of others, then the state must assure us he will be permanently removed from our roadways. The key word there is "permanently."
This may not be the most important story of the day. But rest assured, come December I'll be watching with interest to see just how sincere our state and the court are in removing these hazards from society. If you drive or ride on any roadway in Missouri, you should be interested too.