Eric Mehring Posts Bond, Community Right To Be Mighty Disgruntled After Three Teenagers Killed By Drunk Driver

I believe in the rule of law. I believe in a process to address the ills of society through a prescribed set of actions to ensure society runs smoothly.

But I also believe in common sense.

I cannot think of a more gut-wrenching news story in Dane County over the past couple of decades that can match the horror and sadness than the deaths of three bright, engaging, and intelligent high school guys due to a fiery car crash caused by a drunk driver. Over the many years we have seen all sorts of news reports about shootings, the impact of severe weather, and good people succumbing to deadly diseases.

But nothing has ripped the public so deep than the absolutely needless deaths of Simon Bilessi, Evan Kratochwill, and John “Jack” Miller.

The deaths of these three people were the result of Eric Mehring reportedly driving his car approximately 30 mph over the 45 mph on a two-lane road at night. Oh, yeah, he was also stinking drunk.

Mehring, it was reported in the police account, had a breath alcohol content value of 0.24, which is three times the legal 0.08 blood alcohol content limit. It was also reported that a law enforcement officer on the scene stated Mehring had eyes that were “glossy and bloodshot.”

The court proceeding this week that set Mehring’s bond at an incredulously low $75,000 was met with dismay by the family members of the victims and folks all around this county.

It was obvious what would be the next step in this process.

Mehring was let out of jail after his family posted his bond. Again, I know this is the process that can be used by the defense.

But the gravity of the crime that was committed by this act of drunk driving should have been more than enough to have demanded a bond that would have prohibited Mehring from being free.

I understand in Wisconsin drunk driving is too often seen as a laugh line. Our state statutes are not tough enough as a first offense at driving under the influence is a mere misdemeanor. For too long we have coddled drunk drivers and not been tough on the bartenders who over-serve their patrons.

Why that last point is so ‘out of bounds’ for discussion is yet one more symptom of the larger problem of too much drinking in this state. Alcohol consumption and our view of drinking as acceptable behavior at every turn in life has resulted in a myriad of social problems. That is just a fact.

I have long argued on behalf of stricter laws concerning this broad topic of drunk driving. Such as, that bartenders need to be as mindful of what they turn out into the street to drive home as they are when filling yet another glass of alcohol. If that had been done concerning Meyring this awful nightmare for three teens and their families and friends possibly would not have occurred.

I have been consistent on this blog about needing tougher laws on drinking in this state. As an example, I advocated for the stern law now on the books in Wausau where bartenders need to be sober at their job.

I support outright a requirement that people serving alcohol have none of it in their system. That bill has been introduced in past legislative sessions, once by Democratic State Representative Josh Zepnick.  It does not take long to understand there were plenty of people opposed to that measure. The beer-soaked Tavern League made sure of that. But I suspect many average folks in the state understood the logic of the bill.

What we know is that Mehring was drinking. Someone poured his drinks and took his money. Someone surely watched him leave through the bar door. We can not pretend none of that matters.

The legal process will play out, and in the months ahead, Mehring will face a judge. The penalty phase of the trial will be tough for the family who found it so easy to set Mehring free this weekend.

In the meantime the rest of Dane County continues to have the families of Bilessi, Kratochwill, and Miller in our thoughts and prayers.

And so it goes.

Pacing Of Wisconsin Legislature Is Concerning

Wisconsin citizens can be excused if they have felt a sense of whiplash the past few days while reading and pondering the work of their state legislature.  While each person can have a varying sense of what needs to be prioritized by our elected officials there can be no disagreement over the fact legislators, by the pacing of their actions, send strong messages about what interests they are protecting and for whom they are really working.

Drunk driving in the Badger State makes for far too many horrific headlines.   Every session there are pleas from the public for tougher and more meaningful laws.  While over time stricter laws have passed there is one measure that seems unable to muster its way to a touchdown.  Wisconsin remains the only state that does not penalize a first-time drunken-driving offense as a criminal charge.

The Wisconsin State Journal editorialized on the need for smarter and tougher drunk driving laws this weekend. 

Unfortunately, top Republican leaders in both houses — Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester — are resisting another sensible bill, AB 18, that would make a first offense for OWI a misdemeanor crime. The proposal, championed by Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, would bring Wisconsin in line with the rest of the nation, and give hundreds of thousands of drivers more reason not to risk getting behind the wheel after drinking lots of alcohol.

The Wisconsin Tavern League continually makes sure that Wisconsin is the only state where a first-time drunken driving  offense is not a real crime.  Just slap the wrist of the first-time offender who drinks and drives, and all is supposed to be fine.

It is not all fine.  The headlines over the many years prove what is happening on our roadways.  As noted in the editorial more than 20,000 people are convicted for drunken driving each year in Wisconsin. Nearly 3,000 people are injured in alcohol-related crashes, and close to 200 people lose their lives.

Meanwhile those who drink water and wonder what chemicals and toxins come out of their tap continues to grow. 

Wisconsin wastewater plants were built to keep pollutants out of the environment, but state regulators have come to realize the facilities may be spreading hazardous industrial chemicals (PFAS) in ways that increase health risks.

Lobbyists for manufacturing concerns including the paper industry have urged lawmakers to go slowly and carefully examine PFAS regulations before acting.

A water quality task force announced by Vos in January has held public hearings and plans to schedule one on PFAS, said chairman Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville. Novak said he hopes the panel will roll out proposed legislation on at least some water pollution problems this fall or winter. He said he couldn’t predict how PFAS would be addressed because it hasn’t been discussed.

The fact we still have far too lenient rules regarding how political campaigns receive money means that the well-funded business community can work legislators far more adroitly than the average person filling a glass of water at the sink.

We are very aware that when the statehouse feels a need to put on thruster rockets and make speed with legislative initiatives they can do so–as last December proved.   The Republican majority called an extraordinary session.  It was most concerning as it was timed after an election which changed leadership in the governor’s office, and prior to the time the victor could sign or veto bills from that session.  The whole effort was designed to undermine what the citizens had stated with their ballots only weeks prior.

At that time elected officials proved that speed mattered.  But when drinking water concerns are raised, or the decades-long fight to curtail first-time drunk drivers is pressed for action we can plainly see citizens just wind up waiting.

What ties all these issues together is a severe lack of enough independent-minded legislators in Madison to get the people’s work done.  Too few who asked for the responsibility of leadership care to look at the facts and propose or support bills dealing with what voters are most concerned about.  Instead, some legislators allow themselves to be brow-beaten and threatened with political opposition at election time, or told they will be denied campaign cash.  Like wilting flowers in the afternoon sun timid elected officials seek the safe route, but not the high road when it comes to working on the pressing needs of our state.  

Some will say that is ‘just politics’.  But that flies in the face of the facts.  Every other state has a hard line when it comes to first time OWI’s.  Nineteen states have set PFAS limits or guidelines for PFAS in water.   Those results show that more partisanship than policy making takes place under the dome in Madison.  And the average citizen loses out as a result.

Might Wisconsin Be Well-Served With Place-Of-Last-Drink Data To Combat Drunk Driving?

The news media have reported for days on the new drunk driving penalties which took effect January 1st.  Even so, Wisconsin still has the weakest laws on the books for first offenders.  It seems a day never goes by without another report of drunk driving serving as a reminder of the immense problem we face.  As such, throughout the state serious-minded people are pondering how to better address this social illness.

The Brown County Board of Supervisors shortly before Christmas agreed to ask the state legislature to allow judges to order the seizure of vehicles driven by drunk drivers.   While the idea can be debated from both sides people know what we have done thus far to curb the problem is simply not working.  More creative ideas need to be considered, and possibly passed into law to stop drunk driving.

I have long argued that if bar owners and their servers were half as interested in what they poured into the streets at the end of the night as they were over what was poured into the glass of a patron we all would be better off.

With that in mind it seems another useful tool in our efforts to limit drunk drivers would be to know which bars are named as the last place-of-drink prior to being pulled over by police for an OWI.   It would be useful to know upon conviction which bars over-served a customer.  It goes without saying that a bar which is named a certain number of times by those convicted should be sanctioned in some way.

While some drunk drivers might not tell the truth for a variety of reasons about their last place of drinking it should be noted a bar that is named over and over does not get to the top of a list without cause.  And from there it seems local law enforcement could use patrol efforts to target the roads around the bar and work to prevent drunk driving.

While I can see the Wisconsin Tavern League fuming over this idea the fact remains a more concerted effort needs to be made so owners of drinking establishments are made more responsible for what is happening on our roads.  Perhaps some heightened awareness of bars who continue to serve intoxicated patrons might make a dent in drunk driving.  We can not do any worse for trying.

We Need To Get Tougher On The Carmine Ciarletta’s Of Wisconsin

Too often drinking is considered a ‘past time’ in the same way that others might go to a movie or take a long walk.  Everywhere we turn in our society there are ads for beer or other intoxicants, and there is hardly a gathering where an alcoholic beverage is not offered.   It is not uncommon to hear of people saying they have a hangover several times a week.    How can that in any be healthy?

The facts present themselves everyday as to why we need a mature and reasoned discussion about alcohol and the impact it has on society.  There can only be so many front-page new stories.  The conversations need to continue around dinner tables, community forums, and political debates.

And when it comes to Wisconsin we need to get tough on first time drunk drivers. Over and over it has been reported not only in this state, but also in tones of disbelief around the nation that Wisconsin slaps only a citation on the first act of getting caught while operating a vehicle while drunk. One does not need to have a degree from a fancy college, or be immersed in data and statistics to know full well that leniency when it comes to drunk driving is simply a recipe for disaster.

Take the 3rd drinking while driving from Carmine Ciarletta which made the news today.

Ciarletta was charged with Operating While Intoxicated after he led Dane County Sheriff’s Deputies on a 4.1 mile chase.  Are we not all glad to not have been on that stretch of road at that time.

Ciarletta, 48, was pulled over for a traffic stop on White Crossing Road in the town of Springdale near Highway PD around 9:45 P.M. following another driver called police after seeing Ciarletta’s car “all over the road and varying speeds.”

When stopped Ciarletta appeared to be drinking and had an open bottle of wine in his car.  Then things got even more dangerous.

Shortly after the start of the traffic stop Ciarletta put the car in gear, turned around and drove onto Highway PD toward Highway 151.  That was simply outrageous.  Where in hell did he think he was going to flee to that would not bring the full force of the law down upon him?

Deputies pursued the vehicle for 4.1 miles with a top speed of 62 mph before deputies stopped the vehicle by boxing it in with a low-speed maneuver.

There are stories of this kind daily in the news and frankly as a resident of this state I am tired of it.  I want some serious remedies applied this reckless behavior.  And the place to start is to make sure that the first time a person is caught drinking and driving a penalty is applied that makes it sting hard enough to not want it to happen again.

Clearly that did not happen to Carmine Ciarletta.

18 Beers Later….(Shocker)…A Car Crash

Like so many others across Wisconsin I am so very tired of drunk drivers.  They are stupid, thoughtless, and very dangerous.  The latest example is a Madison man who admits to drinking 18 beers and then getting behind the wheel to drive.  Making this case even more brazen the fool also did not have insurance.

Gustavo Delarosa-Viades, 20, was tentatively charged with his second drunken driving offense, operating while revoked and operating without insurance, Madison police said.  

According to police:

A police sergeant discovered a car in a ditch along South Stoughton Road at about 12:15 a.m. Wednesday.

“He went to investigate and found the driver was asleep behind the wheel,” said police spokesman Joel DeSpain.

The car was not running and the headlights were off, but there was enough front-end damage to activate the air bags.

“After the driver was awakened, he acknowledged he had consumed a few beers prior to the crash, 18 to be exact,” DeSpain said.

I Applaud GOP For Standing Up For What Is Right In Minnesota

There are many reasons to take Republicans to the woodshed concerning policy decisions.   I do that often on Caffeinated Politics.  But when the right thing is done it deserves credit and respect.  Such is the case for the GOP in Minnesota who understand and appreciate the gravity of drunk driving.

I know that for far too many in Wisconsin drunk driving is not taken seriously.  First offenses are treated so politely in this state that is does nothing to sober someone up to the realities of the situation.

In 2004 Democratic Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager drove off the road while drunk outside of Madison.    She lost my support at once.  I have consistently advocated for tougher drunk driving laws and support politicians who have the spine to say and act like the majority of the citizens want concerning this issue.

That is why I am supportive of the actions from Republicans in Minnesota who place doing the right thing above political calculations.    I happen to think, as does the GOP in Minnesota, that severe character flaws are not acceptable for those who wish to oversee the laws of the state.  Peg  Lautenschlager  was not acceptable in Wisconsin and Michelle MacDonald  is not fit to serve in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Republican Party’s endorsed candidate for Supreme Court is watching her support from the party erode.

Party officials passed a resolution banning Michelle MacDonald from the GOP’s booth because of a pending drunken driving case. And the Republican nominee for attorney general on Thursday endorsed MacDonald’s opponent, longtime Democratic attorney and current Justice David Lillehaug, saying he can’t support her.

MacDonald defied party leadership by showing up at the party’s booth on the fair’s first day Thursday. She was asked several times to leave before she finally did.

She says she isn’t trespassing and plans to return every day unless the party takes legal action against her.

MacDonald was endorsed at the GOP state convention in May. Party officials say they didn’t know about MacDonald’s 2013 arrest.

Wisconsin Needs Attorney General With Tough Drunk Driving Position

How can the entire rest of the nation be ‘wrong’ when it comes to making a first drunken driving offense a misdemeanor?  Because if we are ‘right’ with not having such a law on the books then every other state must be marching to a tune that is not correct over such a policy.

Over and over it has been reported not only in this state, but also in tones of disbelief around the nation that Wisconsin slaps only a citation on the first act of getting caught while operating a vehicle while drunk. One does not need to have a degree from a fancy college, or be immersed in data and statistics to know full well that leniency when it comes to drunk driving is simply a recipe for disaster.

One also does not need to be a political reporter to know that the Wisconsin Tavern League is a most powerful and well-financed machine that makes sure sensible laws are never allowed to pass the legislature when it comes to drunk driving.

There are three Democrats seeking the nomination for attorney general next week.  But one of them is out of step with those of us who know some steel in the spine is required when an attorney general deals with the issue of drunk driving.

State Rep. Jon Richards of Milwaukee and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne have correctly stated a first drunken driving offense should be a misdemeanor.   Meanwhile the third candidate in the primary, Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, likes the way citations are now handed out to those who drunkenly weave about on our roads.  Instead of hitting hard on those who are first pulled over by police when driving while drunk Happ wants repeat drunken drivers to face hasher penalties.

It should be noted that Happ has been given $1,500 from the tavern industry’s political action committee. Richards and Ozanne have not received any such funding from this political operation.

The main problem I have with Happ’s position is that she seems to think that tarring someone with a misdemeanor is such an awful outcome.  They might be termed a ‘criminal’.

I come from the school of thinking where drinking and driving should be so culturally unacceptable that it would be far worse to be labeled as someone who injures or kills another as a result of being drunk.  And since there is a continual public campaign to alert everyone not to drive while drinking it should then come as no surprise if one is then caught by police for doing that very thing.

Happ seems unable to say or do the correct thing when it comes to the issue of handling first-time drunk drivers.  The problem is that almost every newspaper carries a story on the latest drunk driver who has been arrested on our roads.  I think that if we were more harsh and demanding accountability with the first DUI we would have fewer repeat offenders.

I am trusting Wisconsin Democrats send the proper message when we cast a ballot next Tuesday by nominating a tough fighter for sober drivers who only want to make it to our destination alive.

Racine County DA Rich Chiapete Has Drunken Hit-And-Run, Worth Only A Municipal Citation

This story is not news in the earth-shaking sense of the word.  After all, drunk driving in Wisconsin comes in spadesful, and the spineless consequences for first-time offenders is now the stuff of laughs and mockery to the bar crowd.

But for the rest of us who read the following story there is shame to be felt knowing we live in a state with so little regard for making sure our roads are safe, and our laws in line with the rest of the country.

Racine County District Attorney Rich Chiapete was cited for drunken driving Friday night and for leaving the scene of an accident after striking a traffic light.

Lets state the facts again.

Chiapete was intoxicated, struck a pole, left his vehicle, and fled to his house.

For this behavior in Wisconsin Chiapete received municipal citations for OWI and hit-and-run.   For what Chiapete described as having ‘a few drinks’ at a birthday party the law says no real problem if you are a first offender that drinks and drives, smashes into something and flees the scene.

Thankfully there was a not a kid on a bike at that intersection waiting for the traffic light to change, or some parent wheeling a child in a stroller.  For all the brave talk from Chiapete  about needing to find ways to have the county find faith in him again is the harsh reality of what could have happened because of his stupidity.

At some point, and God only knows when that will be, this state is going to have to let loose of the notion the Tavern League should dictate laws regarding drunk driving.   At some point the state legislature will have to join the 21st-century when drafting drunk driving laws.

There is no way that a first offense of drunk driving in Wisconsin should he a mere citation.  This is just plain embarrassing.