How did repeat drunk driver accused in crash have license?
Burlington, Vermont - December 28, 2010
Police say a repeat drunk driver is to blame for a crash that killed a Burlington woman. Many people are now asking how Timothy Dowd got a license in Vermont with four prior DUI convictions.
Legal experts say in some ways, Vermont is too easy on drunk drivers. For example, other states hand out longer sentences. Lawmakers did beef up rules, but that was back in the 1990s. New laws took effect under the Dean administration. And officials say they reduced the number of deaths caused by DUIs. But now some are saying they don't go far enough.
Co-workers at Dealer.com fondly remembered Kaye Borneman, watching a video of their colleague talking about the company.
Borneman said, "So a friend of mine said he had a job possibly for me in Vermont and I was living in California at the time and I thought, why would I move to Vermont? There's maple syrup and cows and ice cream and cheese-- that's about it. Do they even have internet?"
Borneman died tragically Sunday night after being hit by a driver who was allegedly fleeing from police. Authorities say Timothy Dowd, 52, of Hinesburg, plowed into Borneman in downtown Burlington. A memorial now marks the spot where the crash happened.
"If this happened to a friend of Kaye's she'd be the first to stand up and create a team of people to go to legislation to go to the state to fight for the appropriate changes," Dealer.com CEO Mark Bonfigli said. "She would be leading that charge, so that's what we're going to do on her behalf."
Borneman's friends cannot believe that Dowd had a license to drive. He has four prior DUI convictions-- one in Vermont-- all before 1991. And police say he was drinking Sunday night. Four hours after the crash his blood alcohol level was .07. Toxicology tests will determine if he was drunk when he crashed.
Legal expert Cheryl Hanna of the Vermont Law School said, "Whenever we have a terrible tragedy like this it requires us to go back and ask, what can we do better?"
Hanna says Vermont honors other state policies. Dowd had a valid New Jersey driver's license when he moved to Vermont, enabling him to get one here.
"Old convictions we don't count and don't count convictions that could be expunged from another state," Hanna said.
"The accident rate amongst these repeat offenders the offense is so outrageous that we do need to deal with it as soon as possible," said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County.
Currently, if a Vermonter gets three DUIs their license gets suspended for life, but even that rule can bend.
"You can have your license revoked for life in Vermont and still be eligible for reinstatement if you go through a program called Total Abstinence which is a declaration you go 3 years without drinking or using illegal drugs," said Glen Button, the director of enforcement for the Vt. Department of Motor Vehicles.
"I think it does indicate that there is a flaw in the system," Sears said.
Lawmakers say they will crack down on drunk drivers this legislative session, something Borneman's friends say must happen to protect innocent lives.
"Kaye is going to end up making her biggest contribution through this," Bonfigli said. "It's just a shame that we don't have her around because we loved her and she was family."
Lawmakers say ignition interlock systems may help. Those are devices that won't allow a car to start if someone has been drinking. Lawmakers are awaiting a report on their effectiveness which should be coming out next week. But all indications are the devices will become part of Vermont law, most likely by this summer.
However, Dowd was driving someone else's car. That's one loophole. These devices would only be installed on convicted offenders' personal cars.