Wednesday, January 09, 2002

19th DUI gets man four years

He escapes maximum after scolding from judge

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Ohio's top repeat drunk driver listened silently Tuesday as a judge in Warren County issued a curt tongue-lashing before sentencing him to four years in prison.

        “You don't seem to be learning anything about your problem or your habit,” Common Pleas Judge P. Daniel Fedders told Curtis Sears of Dayton, Ohio.

        For Mr. Sears, it was the 19th time he was sentenced in Ohio for drunk driving, and the 25th charge in the 28 years he has been driving.

        Judge Fedders had the option to send Mr. Sears to prison for five years on the felony charge. He offered no explanation why he did not levy the maximum sentence under a law that went into effect a year ago, aimed at keeping repeat drunk drivers off the road.

        Mr. Sears' attorney, Keith Nixon Jr., said he thinks the judge gave the 44-year-old auto mechanic less time because he pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in a hearing last month.

        “He admitted everything. If you have an opportunity to get less than five years, that is probably the best thing to do. You throw yourself at the mercy of the court, and that's what we did,” Mr. Nixon said.

        Judge Fedders also ordered Mr. Sears to receive substance abuse counseling, fined him $10,000 and, for the second time in 19 months, suspended Mr. Sears' driving privileges for life. Judge Fedders had ordered a lifetime suspension the last time he sentenced Mr. Sears to one year in jail on a felony drunk driving charge in May 2000. Mr. Sears later drove anyway.

        Andrea Rehkamp, executive director of the Southwest Ohio chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, monitored the hearing Tuesday and expressed disappointment.

        “Obviously, on a case like this, we would hope for five years,” she said.

        “If he had learned his lesson the first or second time, it would be enough. At 25 times, no, it's not.”

        Andrea Dean, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, said Mr. Sears will be incarcerated at North Coast Correctional Treatment Facility in Grafton, a privately run 550-bed prison.

        The latest conviction stems from Mr. Sears' arrest Sept. 20 after a Warren County sheriff's deputy stopped him in his employer's truck for weaving on Stubbs Mills Road in Union Township, Warren County.


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