MISSOULA — Emotional testimony was heard in Helena on Thursday from the family of a boy killed in what Missoula County prosecutors allege was a DUI crash on US Highway 93 in February.
The family of 10-year-old Brecken Beard told the House Judiciary Committee that imposing stricter laws on a person convicted of a second DUI could prevent the kind of tragedy that's devastated them.
They testified in support of a bill sponsored by Florence State Representative Sharon Greef.
- RELATED: Remembering Brecken: Dad shares his memories of his son killed in a crash
- RELATED: Photos: Remembering Brecken Beard
“I'm not just an angry, upset parent that has lost his son. My son would be alive today had there been more severe penalties and longer probation, more jail time -- a longer monitoring period,” Daniel Beard said.
"When a person gets a second DUI, it’s a huge red flag that something is not working in this person's life and just punishment them is not enough,” added Brecken’s grandfather. Ed Boniecki. “If they could get better, they would.
They had asked Rep. Greef for help to write a law that intervenes more harshly after a second DUI conviction -- not just to prevent a tragedy like the one they've experienced, but to help the person convicted of impaired driving.
The proposed bill would have done several things including:
- An automatic license suspension for two years after the second DUI conviction.
- Requiring a person to wear a transdermal alcohol monitoring device for two years. (Commonly known as an ankle bracelet).
- Requiring a mental health evaluation.
The measure passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday but was later was reconsidered and then tabled -- killing the bill.
MTN’s Jill Valley spoke to Rep. Greef who shared her reaction shortly after she received the news.
“I do not think I even have words to describe my disappointment. And it is not my disappointment, but the disappointment, first of all, for the family that’s gone through this tragedy and came and gave gut-wrenching testimony,” Rep. Greef told MTN News. “But just it is a sad thing for Montana to be number one in the nation for DUI deaths per 100,000 people and last in the nation for legislative rules for DUI. And it’s horrible. So, I was shocked."
Not all of Thursday’s testimony was in support of the bill with Fergus County Judge Kelly Mantooth telling the committee he feels treatment works better than punishment does.
“Treatment. Treatment is what works,” Mantooth said. “We can make them stare at a red brick in a jail cell. We can take their license away we can take their car away. They're going to find another car and find booze somewhere else. We have to fix the disease. The courts can't do it.
While Greef's bill is done for the session, there is another one that's been introduced by several lawmakers that includes increased penalties for someone with five DUIs or more -- including mandatory prison time after a seventh DUI conviction.
Daniel Beard told MTN News that Thursday felt like a punch to the gut when the bill they hoped would pass was tabled. However, they plan to be back before the legislature in two years to push for changes in our state's DUI laws.