The drunken crash that led to tougher Arizona DUI law

DUI driver killed (at least) 3.

The Arizona Republic has been running a series of throwback stories from the files of report Don Bolles who was murdered in 1976, presumably related to mob investigations he was conducting.

This one, unrelated to mob, popped up this week Don Bolles files: The drunken crash that led to tougher Arizona DUI law

The quick synopsis was in the early morning hours of  Easter Sunday 1971 a very drunk driver at .251 BAC killed 3 people and left a 4th person in a permanent vegetative state. He was portrayed as being not particularly remorseful. He ultimately served 6 months of a 1 year sentence for a guilty plea to misdemeanor manslaughter.

The original story was published Dec 12, 1971 (which I didn’t find linked in the article?) offers some more clues:

But Ison was not charged with drunken driving. The Coconino County attorney’s office decided to file charges of felony manslaughter against him, then allowed him to plead guilty to a lesser charge, misdemeanor manslaughter, on the ground that juries will not convict persons of the more serious crime.

Also mentioned was that the driver, “Ison had been pulled over for drunken driving the year before along the same highway”. So he was a repeat DUI, who, as usual, told the reporter that yes, “he had been drinking, but wasn’t drunk”. In the story of the interview, it’s not mentioned why he was driving on the shoulder, where he plowed into the victim’s vehicle at full speed.

I don’t have an easy way to figure out when AZ’s homicide laws changed (there was a major re-alignment of AZ’s entire criminal code in 1978; see below), but the current homicide categories include only felonies; in other words, there is now no such thing as misdemeanor manslaughter. The least-serious homicide charge, Negligent Homicide, is a class 4 felony; Manslaughter is a class 2. Drunk drivers who negligently kill others in Arizona now routinely would be sentenced to 6 or 10.5 years in prison, and 85% time must be served in prison (see truth in sentencing). [there are also a handful of 2nd degree murder convictions, e.g. impaired wrong-way drivers Steve Martin, Patricia Murphy; but don’t seem to result in particularly long sentences at 10 and 14 years, respectively]

The story (the 2019 story) claims soon after the Dec 1971 story was published, and as a result of public pressure Arizona Legislature made DUI laws tougher; lowering the per se limit from .15 to .10 BAC (where it remained until something like the late ’90s, or was it early ’00s?, when it was lowered to .08). I don’t see any actual connection to this story, the driver in this case, at .251, was way way above any limit. The issue for the case at hand is the way manslaughter is permitted to be sentenced; along with prosecutors believing, rightly or wrongly, that juries won’t convict dangerous drivers.

In 1978 & 1977 there was a huge rewrite of the entire code, I expect the manslaughter statute was changed as  a result of either: 1978 33rd Legislature, 2nd Regular Session, HB2025 Crimes and Offenses, Ch. 201 page 677-??? , checking HeinOnline; found under “session laws” for AZ: 13-1103 Manslaughter on p728 and 729; seems to say already was a class 3 felony but that amends 1977 HB2054 (33rd / 1st Regular) / ch. 142, p724 11-1103 …MANSLAUGHTER IS A CLASS 3 FELONY, so it was new for 1977. So need to look older…

It was bumped up from a felony class 3  to a 2 by: 1993 Ariz. Sess. Laws 255, 1993 Ariz. Ch. 255, 1993 Ariz. SB 1049 (April 22, 1993)

Home town Connection

One of the victims was from the tiny borough of Catasauqua, PA my wife’s hometown, and one hometown over from mine:

Nancy Ann Cudlic, 20, Catasaqua, Pa., a Syracuse sophomore who hoped to be a writer, lingered for two weeks in a coma, then died in a Phoenix hospital with her parents at her side.

Historical DUI

For a thorough general history of DD in USA, see One for the Road: Drunk Driving since 1900, Barron H. Lerner.

The Crash

The grainy picture that accomanied the 1976 story

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