With A Signature, Colo. Governor Ends Battle For Families Of Victims Killed By Drunk Drivers

MGN Online

With a flick of a pen, a long battle ended for families of victims killed by repeat drunk drivers.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill into law Monday that will make a fourth lifetime DUI a felony.

"I just feel like a major moral victory has been won," Frank Martinez of Greeley said last month after the bill passed its final obstacle in the state Senate.

Martinez lost his nephew and two great-nephews ages 6 and 1 last winter when a man with eight prior DUI arrests slammed into their car as the family drove home from church.

It wasn't an isolated tragedy, 11 News reporter Lauri Martin learned while investigating repeat drunk drivers earlier this year. Many other families in Colorado found their lives changed forever after a loved one entered the path of a habitual drunk driver.

"I'd say about 30 to 35 percent of people we arrest for DUI are repeat offenders," El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputy Travis Kitowski told Martin.

But for years, state lawmakers continued to vote down bills that would give these repeat offenders harsher punishments, citing concerns about increased costs to courts and prisons. Habitual drunk drivers in the state only faced misdemeanor charges.

"Your third DUI in Colorado is treated the same as your fifth, eighth, 10th and 20th DUI. We have drivers who are allowed to drive until they kill," State Representative Lori Saine said. Saine was one of the legislators behind House Bill 1043, the DUI bill that finally made it to the governor's desk after years of trying.

Thanks to the new law, drivers like the man accused of killing Nicholas Uberecken will have a harder time getting behind the wheel. Uberecken was traveling to work in 2014 when a driver with four DUI convictions allegedly slammed into him. Under the law signed by Hickenlooper Monday, a fourth DUI will now be a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of as much as $500,000.

The law will go into effect on Aug. 5.