MARSHALL - Some 20 months after her five-month old boy was killed by a drunk driver, Heather Bigler stood inside the State Office Building at the Capitol as a bill designed to come down harder on repeat DWI offenders was introduced to the public.
Bigler, her husband Brad, and their family are advocating for a tougher law for repeat DWI offenders and were joined at Tuesday's news conference by the bill's authors, District 16A Rep. Chris Swedzinski. R-Ghent, and District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, for the public introduction of the bill.
"It felt good to know there are a lot of people out there who care and who want to see stricter penalties for those repeat offenders," said Heather Bigler. "It's just another opportunity for us to use Drake's legacy as a way to educate people about the law."
"It kind of happened so fast; last week, Representative Swedzinski was conference calling us and we came to the Cities today," said Heather's sister, Sarah Huseby. "We want to honor Drake, and we feel good to be able to help people in the future with this bill."
Huseby said the family has been working on this for quite some time and calls it a stepping stone for the penalty to match the severity of an incident.
The bill, named "Drake's Law" after Heather and Brad's son, would increase the maximum sentence for criminal vehicular homicide occurring within 10 years of a previous qualifying DWI offense. A qualifying offense includes an aggravating factor such as injury to a person or damage to property.
The maximum sentence would be increased from 10 to 15 years.
The driver of the truck that slammed into the Biglers' SUV on that July weekend in 2012, Dana Schoen of Starbuck, had a blood alcohol content of 0.351 - four times the legal limit in Minnesota - according to the criminal complaint. And Schoen already was a repeat offender; it was the third time he had been arrested for drunk driving since 2000. His plea deal in the crash that killed Drake Bigler resulted in a 48-month prison sentence.
Heather Bigler said the family wants people to know about the potential changes to the law like she and her family are trying to implement since most don't know much about it - at least those who haven't had a first-hand experience with a crash that involved a drunk driver.
"Unfortunately, we went through a pretty painful process, and we found out that for repeat offenders the laws just aren't very strict," she said. "We're thankful that Representative Swedzinski and Senator Dahms were able to put something together and work with us to try to strengthen the laws. We understand people make mistakes, but when it happens a second time and a third time, it's no longer a mistake."
Both Heather's and Brad's fathers have spoken to groups and at high schools about the work being done to toughen up the laws. Brad and Heather have also teamed up with the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and the NCAA in Drake's honor to encourage students and fans not to drink and drive.