Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed a bill Monday afternoon that strengthens North Dakota’s drunken driving laws.
The governor signed House Bill 1302 in Memorial Hall surrounded by bill sponsors and several family members who had lost loved ones in accidents involving drunken drivers.
“This new law is enforceable; it is a stronger deterrent; and it will help save lives,” Dalrymple said.
HB1302 increases the fines for DUI convictions, as well as increases jail time for second and subsequent offenses. It makes a first and second DUI conviction a Class B misdemeanor, a third conviction a Class A misdemeanor and a fourth or subsequent conviction a Class C felony.
Upon a second conviction, offenders are required to participate in the 24/7 Sobriety Program for one year.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said HB1302 sends the message that in North Dakota drunken driving is being taken more seriously.
“I am convinced it (HB1302) will save lives, and it’s the right thing to do,” Stenehjem said.
Also in HB1302 is a vehicular homicide provision with a three-year mandatory minimum sentence on the first offense and 10 years for a second offense.
Bismarck resident Tom Deutscher stepped forward and spoke about the positive impact he hopes HB1302 will have on North Dakota residents.
Deutscher’s son Aaron Deutscher, wife Allison and 18-month-old daughter, Brielle, were killed by a drunken driver on July 6, 2012, east of Jamestown on Interstate 94. The drunken driver had been traveling the wrong way on the interstate and hit the Deutscher family’s vehicle head-on.
“When a tragedy hits a family, you become paralyzed,” Deutscher said.
Deutscher said Monday’s bill signing was bittersweet.
“It’s hard when you’ve lost the most precious thing in your life,” Deutscher said. “We got a life sentence out of this.”
Colfax resident Lynn Mickelson, father of Allison Deutscher, called the day of the crash the worst day of his life.
“Today is one of the better days,” Mickelson said of the bill signing.
He added that although HB1302 won’t bring his loved ones back, it provides some peace of mind.
“Something good came of this tragedy. We got a law changed in North Dakota that probably wouldn’t have gotten done,” Mickelson said.
Newburg resident Juan Ruiz and his wife, Sandy Hernandez, also were on hand to give HB1302 their seal of approval.
“This is a deterrent. It’s going to work,” Ruiz said. “It starts with this day; it’s going to happen one day at a time.”
Ruiz and Hernandez had been living in El Paso, Texas, for nearly 10 years before Ruiz came to North Dakota in 2012 for work.
Their sons, Alaries Ruiz, 9, and Cyris Ruiz, 5, were killed while sleeping in a tent at the Lake Metigoshe campground in July 2012. The tent was struck by a drunken driver in a pickup. The boys’ friend, Anthony Tabarez Jr., 9, Newburg, was injured.
“It’s a victory for all of us,” Ruiz said. “A small victory, but nevertheless, it’s a victory.”