MILWAUKEE (AP) – A Wisconsin state senator has renewed her call for a 10-year minimum sentence in fatal drunken driving cases after one motorist received only 90 days in jail.
Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, pointed to the case involving 24-year-old Christopher Schneider as reason for a tougher minimum sentence. Schneider struck and killed bicyclist Eugene Henry Dennis after drinking while watching a Packers game two years ago. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, with work release, after pleading no contest last month to second-degree reckless homicide.
“Respect for life demands something more than 90 days,” Darling told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The issue was somebody was killed, a very serious consequence. We have to balance the scales of justice in Wisconsin.”
Schneider’s attorney, Dennis Melowski of Sheboygan, says Schneider had never been in trouble before and the sentence was appropriate in his situation.
Others, including the attorney representing Dennis’ estate and the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, disagreed.
“I think 90 days is too light. It just doesn’t seem right,” said Dave Schlabowske, spokesman for the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. “There’s a cultural mind-set that these are accidents, a tragedy but the price we pay for driving motor vehicles. Nothing we can do about it. Even when a person’s drunk.”
His group is lobbying for a law that would make it a felony to kill or injure pedestrians, cyclists and others while committing traffic violations that are less severe than drunken driving.
Dennis, a track coach at Fond du Lac High School, had competed for the University of Wisconsin and won a national 5K championship in 2003. But at the time of his death, he was about to start a six-month jail sentence after pleading no contest to misconduct in office and illegally entering a building. He had been accused of having sexual relations with a student.
Dennis was riding west on a county highway in the town of Taycheedah about 7:30 p.m. Sept. 18, 2010, when Schneider’s vehicle struck him. He was thrown about 140 feet and his bicycle shattered.
Schneider had been drinking while watching a Green Bay Packers game at a friend’s home and then had a few more drinks at a tavern. He stopped at the scene, cooperated with investigators and admitted he had been drinking.
Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com