Wednesday, May 27, 2020

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Senate defeats vehicular homicide bill



PIERRE — Attorney General Marty Jackely’s second attempt at getting vehicular homicide classified as a violent crime was defeated in the S.D. Senate on Monday.


Vehicular homicide, a Class 3 felony, is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine. Under SB24, the prison sentence would remain the same, but by classifying it as a violent crime, offenders would spend more time in prison before they were eligible for parole. 


A violent crime first offender must spend at least half the original sentence in prison. An offender convicted of a nonviolent Class 3 felony is eligible for parole after serving 30 percent of a prison sentence. 


Sen, Kris Langer, R-Dell Rapids, spoke against the measure, saying other violent crimes carried a measure of intent on the part of the offender. Langer cautioned the Legislature against adopting the law based on only one case.


The case that inspired the bill is that of two U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees, Maegan Spindler of Cazenovia, N.Y., and Robert Klumb of Pierre, who were killed in a Pickstown parking lot in 2013 when they were struck by a vehicle driven by Lake Andes resident Ronald Fischer. Fischer’s blood-alcohol content was almost three times the legal limit.


Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, also opposed the bill.


“We all feel for what happened that fateful day in Pickstown,” Heinert said. “We cannot treat this as a crime of violence. We should be talking about how to prevent drunk driv-ing.”


Sen. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, favored the bill, referring to his personal experience when he was struck by a vehicle.


“When you get hit by a vehicle, it is violent,” Nelson said. “It is a weapon.”


According to Nelson, defeat of the bill would send the message that the Senate con-dones drinking and driving.


Sen. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs, cautioned senators not to hone in on just one inci-dent. “It has much broader implications,” Russell said. 


The bill was killed in the Senate on a vote of 16-19.