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Repeat DUII offenders stay behind the wheel

PUBLIC SAFETY -- Forest Grove resident picked up on fourth drunk driving charge

After allegedly causing two hit-and-run accidents within half an hour, a Forest Grove man was arrested by Tigard police officers last month and charged with drunk driving, his fourth such arrest since 1995.

The episode began on Sunday, June 11, when Ignacio Cazarez-Miranda, 28, was traveling east on Tualatin Valley Highway in Beaverton.

Another driver noticed his vehicle veering widely, and used a cell phone to call the police.

'There was a motorist following him who was on the phone with the dispatch center. They could see him swerving and almost hitting the curb repeatedly,' says Mark Hyde, public information officer for the Beaverton Police Department.

To the witness's horror, a man was riding his bicycle by the side of the road, says Hyde, just ahead of Cazarez-Miranda's car. 'They were hoping he wouldn't pull one of his exaggerated movements, but sure enough he did, and then continued down Canyon Road.'

The bicyclist, George Crawford, was struck by Cazarez-Miranda's vehicle at about 7:07 p.m. near the intersection of Tualatin Valley Highway and 142nd Avenue. He suffered a shoulder injury and road rash, and was treated at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland.

But the story didn't end there. A few minutes later, at 7:30 p.m., police were informed Cazarez-Miranda was involved in another hit-and-run on Pacific Highway (OR 99W) and 65th Avenue in Tigard. He had backed up into a vehicle at an intersection, and then drove away.

'The second victim followed Ignacio and notified police when he pulled into a restaurant on 99W,' said Jim Wolf, public information officer for the Tigard Police Department.

Beaverton Police also arrived at the scene and filed concurrent charges of felony driving under the influence of intoxicants, felony assault, felony hit-and-run, and felony driving while suspended.

Cazarez-Miranda was transported to Washington County Jail, where he is being held on $25,000 bail. Under Oregon law, people convicted for DUII more than three times in the past 10 years are charged as felons, and subject to having their licenses revoked.

Repeat offenders are hardly rare. In fact, Cazarez-Miranda's case would probably have received little notice if not for Oregonian columnist Jerry Boone, who noted the incident in last week's paper.

Federal traffic officials say one out of every three people arrested for DUII has a prior arrest or conviction for drunken driving. FBI statistics indicate 1.4 million DUII arrests were made nationally in 2004, the last year for which statistics are available.

In Oregon, stronger DUII laws passed by the legislature in 1983 caused a sharp drop in fatal alcohol-related crashes, according to the Oregon chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The legislation lowered the legal blood alcohol capacity (BAC) to 0.08 percent, allowed officers to take away a DUII suspect's license at the time of contact, created a diversion program for first-time offenders and placed severe time limits on the DUII driver's right to request a Department of Motor Vehicles hearing.

Ostensibly, the most direct way to permanently stop repeat drunk drivers would be to take away their vehicles. However, this is easier said than done. In Oregon and 25 other states, vehicle confiscation is a possible penalty for drunken driving, but most counties don't use the law.

'The process just doesn't work for DUII,' says Sandra Nelson, legislative liaison for the Oregon chapter of MADD. Vehicle forfeiture laws are modeled after similar laws that call for confiscation of assets - such as a home or car - paid for by drug-dealing. However, it is very difficult to meet the legal conditions to seize property in a DUII case.

'The problem is how that asset relates to drunk driving differently than it does to drug forfeiture,' says Nelson.

In Nelson's opinion, Oregon can take other steps to prevent repeat DUII that are more effective than forfeiture.

For one, she said, repeat offenders should be subject to a stricter allowable BAC, such as 0.06 percent, 0.04 percent, or even 0.00 percent, depending on the number of DUII arrests and convictions.

Second, drivers who are found to have a BAC higher than 0.15 percent - the average BAC for fatal crashes in the U.S. - should face 'enhanced penalties' such as larger fines, longer license suspensions, and extended treatment, Nelson said.

Perhaps most importantly, Nelson said, people need to view drunk driving as a form of violence, rather than just an unacceptable behavior. 'DUII is just as dangerous as a knife-wielding burglar,' she said. 'The public needs to realize this is a violent crime against society.'

Luckily, most drunk drivers aren't arrested as a result of accidents, but rather because their erratic behavior behind the wheel is noticed by vigilant citizens or police officers, says Capt. Aaron Ashbaugh of the Forest Grove Police Department.

Drunk driving is a recurring problem for the city; from January to April this year, there were 35 arrests for DUII.

'It's a little lower than usual,' said Ashbaugh. 'In Forest Grove city limits, we probably average 10-plus a month.'

Although a relatively small portion of all U.S. automobile accidents are alcohol related - roughly seven percent, according to the NHTSA - a much higher percentage of fatal accidents involve alcohol: 39 percent.

Another troubling NHTSA statistic is that drivers with prior DUII convictions are four times more likely to be in a fatal crash than first-time offenders. The chance of having a deadly accident grows with every DUII, their studies show.