Deadly crash raises questions about repeat drunk drivers

Deadly crash raises questions about repeat drunk drivers »Play Video

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — The case of a Bakersfield man suspected in a deadly head-on crash has again raised questions about repeat drunk drivers. Martin Juarez has been arrested for the incident on Monday, and he has not been convicted. But, Juarez has two pervious DUI convictions.

He was going south in the northbound lanes of Coffee Road when he crashed into the car driven by 18-year-old Breana Webb, according to Bakersfield police  Webb died at the scene, and her four passengers were injured.

Juarez has been charged with four felony counts. Bakersfield attorney Kyle Humphrey is not connected with this case, but he says DUI laws have been getting tougher.

"The (driver license) suspensions get longer, the fines get higher, the amount of jail time someone's supposed to do gets worse," Humphrey says. "But, it's had very little effect on guys like this."

A check of Kern County court records shows Juarez had a case in 1997 of driving on a license that had been suspended or revoked because of a DUI. Juarez pled guilty, and was given a 10-day jail sentence and two years probation, according to the court website. It's not clear where the original DUI happened.

In 2005, Juarez was accused of drunk driving in Kern County in May, and in July he got a sentence of two days in jail and three years probation. Before that even happened though, Juarez was arrested in June for driving on a suspended license, according to the court records. For that charge, Juarez was sentenced to ten days in jail and three years probation.

Then in 2009, there's a case against Juarez for driving on a license that was suspended due to a drunk driving conviction.

Even if his probation was no longer in effect in 2009, attorney Jared Thompson says Juarez may still not have had his driver's license reinstated. "Because of this type of record, there's a chance he never even got his license back in the first place," Thompson said.

The attorney says after a DUI conviction, a driver must complete the court's requirements for things like probation, and also complete requirements from the Department of Motor Vehicles. That can include an 18-month DUI school through the DMV.

From the available records, it's not clear if Juarez did that.  It's not clear if he had his license back on Monday.

The Kern County Court records do show that in the 2005 case of driving on a suspended license, Juarez was also required to put an "ignition interlock device on all vehicles owned or operated by defendant for a period not to exceed three years or until the defendant's driving privilege is reinstated by the Department of Motor Vehicles."

Humphrey thinks technology may be one good way to deal with repeat drunk drivers.

"A real emphasis on breath-detection devices in cars, or alcohol-detecting steering wheels," Humphrey suggests. "Maybe that's where the investment should be made."

There are past examples of lives lost to repeat drunk drivers.

In 2009, well-known cyclist Alton Saceaux was killed when he was hit on Union Avenue near Bear Mountain Blvd. Douglas Kaiser was convicted for that, and he had prior DUI convictions in the mid-1990s. Kaiser took a plea deal giving him a maximum two-year sentence.

Back in 1994, 12-year-old Anajean Ferdinand's legs were crushed when she was hit by a drunk driver. James Kidwell had been cited for DUI 12 times before.

But, the laws are getting tougher. In Monday's case, Juarez has been charged with second-degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, DUI causing great bodily injury, and hit and run.

Humphrey says the second-degree murder charge carries stiff penalties, and he predicts prosecutors will ask for a life sentence for Juarez, and get him off the street.

"Second-degree murder is 15 years to life," Humphrey says. "And life in California, generally means life."

Juarez is being held on $1.2 million bail, and he's set to be back in court in early January.