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Originally published July 20, 2013 at 3:59 PM | Page modified July 22, 2013 at 4:38 PM

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Guest: State Legislature must do even more to combat drunken driving

The Washington Legislature’s new drunken-driving law is an improvement. But Dan Schulte, whose family was devastated by a drunken driver, says it does not go far enough.

Special to The Seattle Times

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IN late March, a drunken driver killed my parents and critically injured my wife and our 10-day-old son at an intersection in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood. In the middle of the afternoon, the driver, who was already facing DUI charges, struck my family as they crossed a common crossing for schoolchildren — a crossing less than two blocks from Eckstein Middle School.

I am pleased that the state Legislature passed a DUI bill recently with some needed changes, but I don’t believe it is enough to keep families safe. I hope the Legislature continues to work on the issue in the next session to create longer minimum jail sentences and convict drunken drivers as felons as soon as they pose a risk.

My family is hurt deeply by this tragedy. We will never be the same. My wife, a nurse at Seattle Children’s Hospital, will very likely never work again as a registered nurse because of a range of severe injuries, including a stroke she suffered as a result of this trauma.

My son will not be able to participate in activities most children enjoy because of his head injuries and there are now far too many unknowns about his long-term brain development.

My parents are no longer with us and will not be able to enjoy their golden years as grandparents.

DUI laws must protect us from abusers of alcohol who drive our city streets without concern for their fellow citizens. I believe this means more jail time for all offenders and felony charges after, at the latest, the second offense. It’s not clear why any repeat DUI offense is less than a felony. And to be clear, it only takes one time to change or end lives forever.

It may be costly to put these criminals in jail and through rehabilitation programs. But the potential tragedies are far more costly on the victims. In our case, we will likely incur millions of dollars in medical and other related costs over the long term. This is not fair for any family.

The Legislature should act to stiffen penalties even further to minimize the number of families impacted by such terrible actions by others. Washington state can be a leader in this area, as many states do not have strict convictions. Currently in our state, it is far too easy to start driving again; there is no clear method for deterring this dangerous action if the penalties do not keep people from doing it.

Thus we need laws that discourage our citizens from driving while intoxicated and we need more efficient measures to ensure repeat offenders are never on the road. They should be unable to access an automobile again. They pose a risk as soon as they are caught the second time and should be behind bars for lengthy sentences where they cannot do harm. And they should be convicted as the felons they are.

I ask the governor, state senators and representatives, and members of Congress to please take on this issue again at the earliest available juncture. As my wife and son are healing and my family grieves the loss of my parents, please do not forget us. And please do not forget that we are not alone; other families are also suffering from very similar tragedies.

Other horrific events like this are bound to happen if we do not discourage our citizens from drinking and driving. We must find a way to keep the most dangerous alcoholics off our city streets forever and repeat offenders in prison where they belong. This issue causes a great deal of incalculable suffering including the loss of life and livelihoods, and huge financial burdens on innocent families.

I hope our story will discourage some people from driving while intoxicated, but I know it is not enough. We need stiffer laws too.

Dan Schulte of Seattle lost his parents, Dennis and Judy Schulte, when they were hit by a drunken driver. His wife, Karina, and infant son, Elias, continue to recover from severe injuries suffered in the incident. The driver, Mark W. Mullan, is facing two counts of vehicular homicide.

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