Opinion

Drinking and driving: Washington needs tougher laws | Mirror editorial

How many more lives need to be lost before Washington state takes a tougher stand on drunken driving?

The Federal Way community and Decatur High School were rocked recently by the deaths of Derek King, 18, and Nicholas Hodgins, 18.

King, Hodgins and Anthony Beaver, 19, were driving south on I-5, coming home June 9 after a celebration for their high school graduation, which was to take place June 12. Just south of State Route 518, Beaver’s 1986 Honda Civic became disabled in the second lane. Beaver activated his emergency flashers and called 911. While the call was being transferred to Washington State Patrol, the call dropped. A minute later, 911 began receiving calls regarding a collision.

Kirkland resident Alexander Peder, 50, had struck the back of the Civic with his 1998 Ford Explorer, pushing it forward and rotating it 180 degrees. The back of the car was obliterated. King, who was in the right rear passenger seat, was declared dead at the scene. Hodgins, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, was transported to Harborview Medical Center, where the next day he was pronounced dead after being taken off life support. Beaver suffered lacerations to the back of his head and side of his face, and had multiple stitches.

The death of two teenage boys is senseless. Peder was charged with two counts of vehicular homicide. The standard sentencing for this crime is, apparently, 5-7 years. Not 57 years, but 5 to 7 years. So, if one gets drunk, gets in a fight, pulls out a knife and kills someone, he gets life without parole. How is it that a vehicle is less of a weapon than say, a knife or a gun? It isn’t, but the laws are written as if it is.

Legislators of the Federal Way community and the state of Washington must look at the laws governing drunken driving — and reassess the punishment vs. the crime.

While the events of June 9 were tragic, it is equally tragic that Peder, the alleged offender, had two prior arrests for DUI. It is tragic that he could plead the first offense down and get a deferred sentence, then plead the second down and get a suspended sentence, then get accused of these fatalities while on suspension for the last offense — and still only get 5-7 years, provided that all of the charges are returned with guilty verdicts and none of them are pleaded down. Should this not be the case, the sentencing would be even less.

For the parents, siblings, family members, friends and community members of these two boys, this essentially amounts to about three years each for the deaths of their loved ones. This does not even take into account the lifetime of pain that will be served upon the other young man who survived. His toughest days are likely still ahead of him.

Justice will not be served here, but local state legislators can right this wrong by passing stricter legislation that makes drunken driving a more serious offense with more serious consequences. We demand it. You are on the clock, and the seconds are ticking away. Lives are depending on it.

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