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.