Felony DUI bill proposed in Colorado legislature

DENVER - Colorado is one of only five states that does not punish a drunken driver with a felony.

Simple DUI is a misdemeanor, as long as it does not involve an accident or injury.

House Minority Leader, State Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado, has introduced a bill to add a more severe punishment for DUI, but it comes with specific criteria.

"It would be your third DUI within a seven-year time period or your fourth DUI in your entire lifetime," said Waller. "By the time you get to the third DUI or the fourth DUI, that person has a serious problem. They don't care about public safety at that point and it certainly needs to be a felony then."

The felony would mean up to one year in prison.

"I think it's a start in the right direction. I don't think it's stiff enough, but it's better than what we have now which is nothing," said Longmont resident Terry Koester. "I think, definitely, the second one should hold some kind of severe punishment,"

Koester and her daughter Heather Surovik were hit by a drunk driver in the middle of the afternoon in Longmont last summer. Surovik lost her unborn child in the crash.

"The emotional healing is the hardest," said Koester.

Koester continues to experience short-term memory problems from the accident. She has a five-inch plate in her wrist from breaking two bones from her elbow down to her wrist. She also had a fractured ankle.

The man suspected of hitting them, 52-year-old Gary Sheats, has had previous DUI arrests.  Prosecutors said Sheats' blood-alcohol level after the  crash in Longmont was more than three times the legal limit for driving.

"Finding out how many DUI's he had prior to our accident and I was just like, that just blew me away," said Koester.

7NEWS checked Sheats' criminal history. He has five previous DUI arrests in four Colorado counties in 1980, 1988, 1992, 2002 and 2008.

"If we would have stopped him at two, maybe it would have changed the course of his life. Maybe he would have thought more before drinking and driving again, if the punishment would have been more severe," said Koester. "When you're giving somebody six chances, five chances; that's too much."

7NEWS wanted to know why the legislation had the caveat of three DUI within seven years.

"You get two DUIs in your twenties and then 25 years later you get your third DUI; maybe that's not appropriate to have a felony either," said Waller.

Felony DUI has failed at the state legislature in previous years because of the cost associated with putting more drivers in prison.

"What is the social cost to society versus the actual cost to the taxpayers," said Waller. "We have a significant reduction in our prison population right now so we don't have to build new beds, we don't have to have new infrastructure to be able to make this happen."

"You can't put a price on a life," said Koester. "I think if it's one full year in prison, I feel really comfortable with that," said Koester.

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