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Darrin Jaquiss remembers May 15, 1988, vividly. He heard the impact, but he didn’t know what happened. He got up and started walking toward the emergency exit when he saw the flames.
The next thing he knew, he passed out from smoke inhalation. He woke up to the feeling of air on his skin. There were people cheering because he was alive.
Jaquiss suffered burns to his lungs, ears, back and right hand and spent two weeks in a hospital. He was 15 years old and he survived what became known as the Carrollton bus crash, the deadliest drunken driving collision in American history.
Twenty-three years have passed since the wreck that claimed the lives of three adults and 24 children returning to Radcliff from a church-sponsored outing to Kings Island. Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board listed Kentucky among states that have done the least to address hardcore drunken driving.
The analysis is rooted in the NTSB’s 11 safety recommendations published in 2000, said Mark Rosekind, an NTSB board member. Of those 11 recommendations, Kentucky has implemented four.
An NTSB news release defines hardcore drunken driving as “a driver with either a prior DWI arrest or a blood alcohol content of 0.15 or greater.” Of the 10,839 people killed in alcohol-related traffic incidents in 2009, more than 70 percent were caused by hardcore drunken drivers, according to the release.
The NTSB recommendations were forwarded by email to Hardin County Attorney Jenny Oldham, who said she was not familiar with the board’s 11 recommendations.
“I honestly have never heard of NTSB standards,” Oldham said. “We have always worked under National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards. This list looks a bit like the NHTSA list that I am familiar with.”
In 2006, Hardin County was one of two counties in Kentucky to meet NHTSA Gold Standards in DUI enforcement and prosecution, Oldham said. The other county was Madison.
From 2007 to 2009, the number of DUI arrests in Hardin County decreased from 805 to 637, according to statistics Oldham provided. Statistics for 2010 are not yet available.
The county’s overall conviction rate for DUI offenders is 95 percent, according to Oldham’s statistics.
While Oldham attributes the declining numbers to well-trained law enforcement and prosecutors, she said she’s not completely satisfied.
“We want the number of DUIs to go down if that reflects fewer people impaired behind the wheel and we want the number of convicted to go up so that offenders are held accountable,” she said.
Virgil Willoughby, public information officer for Elizabethtown Police Department, said EPD takes driving under the influence seriously.
According to the EPD website, the department has averaged 321.2 DUI arrests in the last five years, arresting 328 DUI offenders in 2010.
However, like Oldham, Willoughby said he believes EPD can improve that number.
“We can be more proactive during down time,” he said. “A lot of times, routine traffic stops can lead to driving under the influence.”
Court mandates DUI offenders in Hardin County to attend a Victim Impact Panel, led by Rose’Shell Davidson, a woman who lost her only two children in a drunken driving accident, Willoughby said.
“It is a very gripping story of how it impacted her and her family,” he said.
Jaquiss is 38 years old today and lives in Vine Grove. He has three sons, ages 16, 14 and 12. He said they know the story of the Carrollton crash.
He said he would like to see zero tolerance for DUI offenders.
“I’m not saying that (if) a person takes one drink and gets on the road, he should be arrested,” Jaquiss said. “I’m saying that we set a legal limit, and if you go above that legal limit, it should be zero tolerance. No plea bargaining, no reckless driving or public intoxication. It’s a DUI.”
“I know some people that according to the law and all that other stuff have gotten off with nothing. It upsets me because I have three kids now, and I don’t want to get that phone call that my mom got.”
Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or email@example.com.
By the numbers
2007 - 805 people were arrested in Hardin County for DUIs. 755 were convicted.
2008 - 770 people were arrested. 748 were convicted.
2009 - 637 people were arrested. 608 were convicted.
Source: County Attorney Jennifer Oldham
NTSB’s 11 Recommendations
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, Kentucky has only met four of the 11 recommendations. County Attorney Jenny Oldham said she believes Hardin County has met seven of the 11 recommendations.
1. Statewide sobriety checkpoints — Kentucky and Hardin County have met this.
2. Vehicle sanctions to restrict or separate hardcore drinking drivers from their vehicles — Kentucky has not met this, but Oldham said Hardin County has.
3. State and community cooperative programs to enforce DWI driver’s license suspension and revocation — Kentucky has not met this, but Hardin County has.
4. Legislation to require that DWI offenders maintain a zero BAC while operating a motor vehicle — Neither Hardin County nor Kentucky have met this.
5. Legislation that defines a high BAC (0.15 percent or greater) as an “aggravated” DWI offense — Kentucky and Hardin County have met this.
6. Alternatives to confinement, such as home detention with electronic monitoring — Neither Kentucky nor Hardin County have met this. Oldham said she did not believe this would be an improvement.
7. Legislation that restricts the plea bargaining of a DWI offense to a lesser, nonalcohol-related offense — Kentucky and Hardin County have met this.
8. Elimination of diversion programs that permit erasing, deferring or otherwise purging the DWI offense record or that allow the offender to avoid license suspension — Kentucky and Hardin County have met this.
9. Administrative license revocation for BAC test failure and refusal — Kentucky has not met this, Oldham explained, because Kentucky requires judicial revocation rather than administrative.
10. A DWI record retention and DWI offense enhancement look-back period of at least 10 years — Kentucky and Hardin County have not met this. Oldham said this would be an improvement.
11. Individualized sanction programs for hardcore DWI offenders — NTSB said Kentucky has not met this. However, Oldham said Kentucky provides enhanced penalties that take number of offenses, level of intoxication and alcohol involved crashes into account.