Anniversary of DUI death looms large

by Jim Longworth

Often when speaking of fallen soldiers or policeman, we like to talk about how the dead did not die in vain. Somehow it gives us comfort to know that lessons can be learned, and future lives spared because of one unexpected sacrifice. Unfortunately innocent victims of drunk drivers continue to die in vain because lawmakers refuse to recognize felony death for what it really is, and establish the kind of punishment it really deserves.

Four years ago this week, WXII anchor Tolly Carr went bar hopping with friends from the TV station. Jeri Rowe of the Greensboro News & Record reported that Carr “did the classic pub crawl in downtown Winston-Salem [which included] the Mellow Mushroom, Speakeasy Jazz, Sixth & Vine, Sounds on Burke and the Burke Street Pub.” According to testimony, Carr’s co worker Fjona Wilson saw Tolly drink four beers, two martinis and a glass of wine. A forensic toxicologist said Carr had consumed a total of 17 drinks at the five bars. Still, Carr refused to take a cab home, and no one cared enough to take his keys away from him. In fact, Wilson joined him as a passenger in his pickup truck.

Only blocks away, young Casey Bokhoven was standing on the sidewalk across from his home, waiting for his girlfriend. Casey was a chef at Forsyth Country Club, and had just been accepted to the Culinary Institute of America. He had a bright future ahead of him which was snuffed out when suddenly Carr sped down the barricaded street, lost control of his truck, which went airborne and struck Casey, dragging the young man’s body along the pavement until Carr slammed into some brick steps. As Rowe described it, “Bokhoven was broken all over, tire tracks across his stomach”¦ hit so hard that the impact knocked him out of his shoes.” When the case came to trial, Bokhoven’s brother Sean remarked that Casey’s life was worth a $10 cab ride. For his part in all of this, Carr was charged with felony death by vehicle, and spent only 116 days in jail.

innocent victims of drunk drivers continue to die in vain because lawmakers refuse to recognize felony death for what it really is, and establish the kind of punishment it really deserves.

The high-profile case should have been a wake-up call to state lawmakers, who could have rewritten sentencing guidelines to allow for life in prison when someone is murdered by a drunk driver. Instead, they did nothing. The consequences of their inaction looms large. Last week former surgeon Dwight Cook drew a light sentence for killing 20-yearold Elena Shapiro while he was driving drunk. Meanwhile, Becky and Chuck Kennedy await sentencing of a woman who drove drunk and killed their daughter Emily.

The grieving parents are not hopeful of true justice. Becky told WXII’s Craig Thomas, “No one is held responsible. You kill someone, and as long as you do it while you’re drunk, you get out of it.” Added Chuck Kennedy, “When you drink and drive and you kill somebody, it is murder.” Forsyth DA Jim O’Neil agrees, but under current law, killers like Carr and Cook cannot be convicted of 2 nd -degree murder unless prosecutors can prove that they acted with malice. O’Neil is frustrated with state lawmakers. So are the families of Casey, Emily and Elena.

The truth is, nothing could be more malicious than driving drunk, and it sickens me to think that people like Carr are walking the streets free as birds. It is also troublesome that we cannot effectively prosecute friends and bartenders who enable drunk drivers. They are accessories to murder, and should be treated as such. It’s time for legislators, bar owners, drunks and friends of drunks to act responsibly. Let’s make sure that victims of drunk drivers don’t continue to die in vain.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).