DENVER — Habitual drunk drivers in Colorado will face felony charges and prison time under a bill headed to the Governor’s desk to sign into law. The bill would make a fourth DUI a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a hefty fine.
It was an emotional day for supporters of the bill who have fought for years to get it signed into law. Families held hands and pictures of loved ones lost to repeat drunk drivers while lawmakers unanimously voted to approve the measure.
Gail Parrish, an Arvada mother of two, has fought for stiffer penalties since her daughter died in a 2012 hit-and-run accident involving a man with repeat DUI convictions. Parrish’s daughter, 21-year-old Jenna Breen was leaving work early on a Saturday morning when she was killed by a repeat drunk driver.
Parrish said, “Jenna’s death and all the other deaths and injuries they mean something now. They brought change.”
A FOX31 Investigation last year found thousands of Colorado drivers, who were convicted of two or more DUI charges, were still driving. More than 12,000 people were classified as persistent drunk drivers last year alone.
Parrish credits the hard work of the families who have lost loves ones, lawmakers who would not give up and she believes our story helped too. “It brought so much awareness last year and it helped us get to this point and I just want to thank everyone.” Parrish said.
Three different DUI felony bills have been introduced over the past three years. The governor is expected to sign the bill in the coming weeks.
The bill will cost taxpayers $2 – 4 million every year depending on how many residents are charged with a fourth DUI. Colorado was among five states where DUI offenders faced only misdemeanor charges even after repeated convictions. Before the law, drunk drivers in Colorado faced felony charges only when they hurt or killed someone.
Governor Hickenlooper supports the bill and said he intends to sign it once it gets to his desk.
Editor’s note: Heidi Hemmat, Carisa Scott and Noah Skinner of our FOX31 Denver Problem Solvers team won a prestigious award from Mothers Against Drunk Driving this week. MADD honored them with the National Media Award for Outstanding Local Television of issues surrounding drunk driving. They won the honor for their investigation into repeat DUI offenders and the lack of felony laws in Colorado, which helped lead to the action in the Legislature Wednesday. MADD applauded their “tremendous dedication” to the issue and their comprehensive reporting that involved interviews with victims, police and District Attorneys.