New C.O. group seeks tougher drinking and driving laws

Recent DUII fatalities lead to a call for change

Community members want DUII policy change

BEND, Ore. - Hundreds of Central Oregonians are banding together in an effort to toughen how DUII cases are handled and reduce the number of tragedies.

At a town hall meeting in Bend Monday evening, more than 60 people gathered to talk about "Marika's Mandate," named in honor of a woman who lost her life to a DUII driver in late December. 

The meeting at Bend's Municipal Court chambers was organized though a recently formed public group on Facebook called 1DUI2Many that already has more than 700 members. 

Those in attendance said they want to lower the legal blood alcohol content level from .08 or increase the severity of charges for being pulled over for driving while intoxicated. 

The sister of Marika Stone, the woman who was hit by a drunken driver while taking a bike ride, declined to speak on camera. But others said it should not take a drunk driver killing someone close to you to start change. An EMT firefighter also spoke up and said he sees drunken driving incidents all the time, and it is frustrating. 

Attendees said they were hopeful the meeting will help spark local movements to eventually change state laws. 

"Unfortunately, in our country, we have not learned how to separate those two, that is driving from drinking and I guess Marika was the first person I have really known who was killed as a result of a DUI," said organizer Keith Bengsston. "Our laws our outdated, and we know what the solution is -- we just haven't implemented them." 

Attendees made it clear they don't want to take away the brewery culture in Bend. They just want what they believe are the appropriate consequences for drinking and driving. 

"When you get hit by a 4,000-, 6,000- or 8,000-pound vehicle, it is not pretty. And for most people, until you see that, feel that or know that, it just doesn't register," said organizer Philippe Freeman. "Taking an online class is not a deterrent." 

A representative with ODOT's impaired driving program, Dan Estes, also spoke at the meeting. He said about 30 percent of people who are pulled over for drunken driving will repeat the crime, increasing the chances of someone getting hurt. 

Estes said the people who want DUII laws changed have a long road ahead of them, but it is possible to make change, and there is power in numbers. 

"It is the most commonly committed crime in Oregon," Estes said of DUII. "It ranges between 17,000 and 22,000 arrests every year, and it fluctuates, but that's generally where it is. Ad that's someone who is blowing over .08, or someone that is impaired by drugs." 

The mother of 2-year old Marley Peterson, who was killed by a drunk driver, also spoke at the gathering.

Sarah Peterson said her daughter was killed because a drunk driver crossed the center line on Highway 20 in September 2016 and hit the family car. She said you have to go to the courts, hold the judges accountable, and show them you care. 

"We can't just sit in the high-profile cases either, it's the little ones," Peterson said. "It's the low-level, make a statement against the people who are going to get out and do it again, because the penalty wasn't severe enough for them to take it seriously. They don't understand what it means to kill somebody and ruin lives."

A representative for Mothers Against Drunk Driving also spoke to the group about events that could be organized on a local level.

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