Governor Pawlenty has given the go ahead for Ignition Interlock devices similar to the one above, which help prevent drunk motorists get behind the wheel, but Brandon Iams' case is different. Photo: AP/Star Tribune, Kyndell Harkness
One of the most pathetic and disproportionate sentences handed down to a driver who has killed fellow motorists in recent times must belong to teenager, Brandon Iams. Iams, 18, was recently sentenced to serve just six weekends in juvenile jail for careless driving, despite the fact that his actions led to the deaths of three people, Shirley Iverson, 71, her daughter, Debra Buhmann, 34, and Iverson’s granddaughter, Alexis Iverson-Ferkul, 8, all of Lakeville.
It’s a situation which seems almost incomprehensible, but it arrives as a result of Minnesota’s notoriously soft laws relating to vehicular homicide. In this particular case, a grand jury was unable to find Iams guilty of gross negligence, which would have led to felony charges. Instead Iams was found guilty of a misdemeanor and will serve the six weekend’s in a juvenile jail as well perform 100 hours of community service.
Iams’ case has obviously angered a lot of people and while we have to accept the outcome and the grand jury’s decision, it begs questions about the nature of Minnesota law in this area. Governor Pawlenty has already promised stricter penalties on drunk drivers and recidivist offenders to reduce the number of injuries and deaths, which include Interlock Ignition devices designed to help prevent intoxicated motorists getting behind the wheel. Several high profile cases over the last year have illustrated the impact of drunk drivers on our roads and the number who escape serious prosecution due to namby-pamby laws in this state. Those laws unfortunately, while long overdue, are unlikely to help in this particular case.
What makes Iams’ crash so disturbing, and a little confusing, is that investigators could find no evidence of drug or alcohol use, nor was he apparently “distracted” behind the wheel, which is a contributing factor in many crashes. Witnesses apparently described Iams driving his truck without lights on County Road 50 and after an aborted turn, he struck Debra Buhmann's car.
Iams was an inexperienced driver, having had a probationary license for just five weeks. He was unencumbered by the effects of drugs or alcohol and while he managed to kill three people he was not seen as grossly negligent. Go figure.
Iams' attorney apparently indicated that he was punishing himself as much as any sentence. That may be the case, but that's also what we as the public expect. We all make silly mistakes, but you cross into a new zone when a life is taken because of a mistake.
There is an awesome responsibility that comes with owning and operating a motor vehicle and most of us are capable of handling that responsibly. For those that, for whatever reason, can’t, then we need stiffer penalties to both send the message that such behavior won’t be tolerated and we get such individuals off the road for a period of time which is commensurate with the mayhem they may have inflicted.
Nathan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and welcomes your comments and suggestions, or you may post below.