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Governor signs tougher DUI laws

FNS Photo by TJ Jerke Gov. Jack Dalrymple signs a bill on Monday that will create new DUI laws and beef up penalties as he is surrounded by lawmakers and families of those that have died in the past year due to a drunken driver.

BISMARCK -- With three families who have lost loved ones in the past year standing behind him, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed a law Monday he says a clear message: "Driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs is a very serious offense and will not be tolerated."

Tom Deutscher said many more are now going to benefit from the new laws, which his family has lobbied for all session.

Deutscher is the father of Aaron Deutscher who died in a July 6, 2012, car crash with his wife, Allison, of West Fargo, and their 18-month-old daughter Brielle, when their vehicle was hit by a drunken driver headed the wrong way on Interstate 94 near Jamestown.

"When politics and partisanship is put aside and safety is brought to the forefront, then all of us can have some comfort knowing they will not have died in vain," he said of his family.

While he sometimes emailed lawmakers during the legislative process expressing frustration with the bill, he said the end result will go a long way.

He said the provisions that extend and require participation in the 24/7 Sobriety Program will help change the attitude of those that decide to drink and drive.

The program requires someone convicted of driving under the influence to take a blood alcohol test twice a day or wear a bracelet that monitors alcohol in the blood.

The sobriety program "is nipping the drinking instead of the driving," Deutscher said.

The bill increases the fine for first-time offenders, makes the punishments for repeat offenders more severe and adds funding for educational programs.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, who said the Deutscher accident was the tragedy that caught his attention first.

"It was a flashpoint for a lot of us to say 'enough is enough,'" he said.

The day after the Deutscher accident, Juan Ruiz and Sandy Hernandez lost their two sons, Cyris and Alaries, on July 7, after they were ran over and killed by a drunk driver as they slept in a tent while camping at Lake Metigoshe.

Both Ruiz and Hernandez spent the past 75 days lobbying the Legislature to increase the penalties and help solve the state's drunken driving problem.

Juan Ruiz said Monday, "I wanted change, awareness, responsibility and accountability and I think this will do that," he said of the bill.

Ruis vowed to lobby for stiffer penalties during future legislative sessions if the new laws do not work.

Lynn Mickelson, joined by his wife, Donna, are the parents of Allison Deutscher. Lynn said the bill will always be known to them as "Brielle's Law," named after their granddaughter.

He thanked the many lawmakers and public officials that were involved with the bill, but was pleased the three families could have an impact on the state's drunken driving laws.

"I feel good knowing our three families, private citizens, had something to do with it," he said. "We got a law changed in North Dakota that probably wouldn't have been done."

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.