Compassion for a Drunken Driver?

April 08, 1994

Under most circumstances, a drunken driver who kills three people does not deserve much pity. Carroll County State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman and Circuit Court Judge Francis M. Arnold, however, showed the appropriate amount of compassion by settling on a plea bargain for 17-year-old Donny Eugene Simms.

Simms was sentenced to a year of home detention rather than several years in prison for driving drunk and causing a wreck last June that killed three people.

A stiff jail sentence would not bring back Simms' sister or his two best friends. Now the teen-ager has the opportunity to demonstrate his actions were a series of tragic mistakes he will never repeat.

Simms was the driver of a car that went out of control on Liberty Road while trying to outrun a state trooper. He was reportedly chosen to drive over his seven teen-age passengers because he was less drunk than they.

With a state trooper in pursuit, these youths knew they were in big trouble. The car in which they were riding was stolen. They had been drinking malt liquor. They were speeding. Simms made a stupid decision to evade the police. He lost control of the car, it struck a guard rail and flipped. His friends and sister were left scattered and dying on the road.

Mr. Hickman initially wanted to prosecute this case as if Simms were a repeat offender and use it as an example for other teens. His office originally argued against trying Simms as a juvenile because prosecutors wanted him sent to prison, not to a juvenile facility.

But Simms was not a repeat offender. Aside from this horrendous auto accident, he had never been in trouble. Like many teen-agers, who too often act before they think, Simms made a terribly foolish decision that killed three people who were close to him. During his year of home detention -- in fact, for his whole life -- he will have to confront the reality that his foolishness killed his sister and his friends.

Judge Arnold is correct when he said that he is taking a chance, but certainly we should be prepared to give a 17-year-old with no prior criminal record another chance. Since the youth is on probation for five years, he will have to behave himself. Should he ever act so irresponsibly again, the courts can, and should, impose an appropriately severe punishment.

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