How authorities are cracking down on repeat DWI drivers
HOUSTON – Police and prosecutors across the Houston area are working on ways to combat the problem of repeated drunk drivers getting back on the road. Below is a breakdown of DWI charges by county filed between Jan. 1, 2018, and Dec. 31, 2019.
After a dinner with friends in Tomball, Mishann Childers said goodbye to her husband in the parking lot of the restaurant. The couple arrived in separate cars.
“The last thing he said to me was, ‘Love you. See you at home,’” said Mishann Childers. “It didn’t make any sense, he had just been at dinner.”
In Febraury 2018, Wayne Childers, husband and father of four, was hit and killed 2 miles from his home. Sheriff’s deputies reported Owen McNett, 47, was intoxicated when he blew through a stop sign at the intersection of Telge and Boudreaux.
“I feel like I’m in a daze every day," Mishann Childers said. "Mornings are the worst because when you wake up you realize it’s real. This affects us for the rest of our lives.”
|Owen Franklin McNett, 47|
|Charged with felony murder stemming from the February 2018 crash that killed Wayne Childers.|
|District Clerk records show McNett had five prior DWI convictions in five counties on his record prior to the crash.|
|Prosecutors with the Harris County DA’s Office stated anyone with three or more DWIs on their record who kill someone while driving drunk is charged with murder, not intoxication manslaughter.|
|Awaiting trial on a murder charge.|
“He had already gone to prison on three separate occasions, it didn’t help,” said Sean Teare, head of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office vehicular crime division.
Teare said McNett is charged with murder, not intoxication manslaughter because of his numerous DWI convictions.
“I don’t ever want him to be out on the streets again, because obviously he’s going to do it again,” said Childers.
McNett is awaiting trial.
“Alcoholism is a pernicious disease and needs to be seen as such, not a criminal state of mind," said McNett’s defense attorney, Dick DeGuerin. “It’s unfortunate others suffer harm or death, but this is not a premeditated or intentional attack or assault.”
The Harris County DA’s Office implemented a diversion program to give 1st offenders a second chance and, so far, the program has a less than 1% recidivism rate.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got change people’s behavior,” said Teare. “We’re looking for those people that made a bad choice. We’re looking for those people that we can put on a productive path.”
However, the DA’s office said special attention is given to those who are repeatedly charged with DWI.
|John Thomas Greco, 45|
|Arrested October 2019 after Precinct 4 Deputy Constables accused him of driving drunk after he crashed his truck and trailer into two cars and several street signs. No one was hurt. Mug shot shows Greco wearing a net that first responders use to prevent suspects from spitting on them.|
|District Clerk records had four prior DWI convictions on his record before October 2019 crash.|
|Awaiting trial and DA’s Office said it will push for a lengthy prison sentence.|
|Officials with the DA’s Office say cases involving a person’s fifth or higher DWI are handled by the vehicular crimes division, not the trial bureau. This provides for stronger prosecutions of these cases.|
|Christopher Ryan Gibbs, 33|
|Racked up four DWI charges (along with possession and evading) in 8 months in Harris and Fort Bend counties.|
|Harris County DA’s Office seized his car after the Jan. 20 charge. He is awaiting trial on all charges.|
|DA’s Office exploring whether it will seek seizure of vehicles more often in cases where a person who is intoxicated flees from police or who racks up several DWI charges in a short time period.|
Sgt. Don Egdorf is the head of HPD’s DWI task force. He is also on the National Board of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“Just saying, ‘Don’t drink and drive,’ doesn’t work,” said Egdorf. “A lot of people with DWI don’t feel like it’s a crime.”
“Do they feel like it’s a mistake?” asked KPRC 2 Investigates reporter Robert Arnold.
“Yeah, for the most part,” said Egdorf.
Egdorf said this is why many departments like HPD, are working to beef up DWI patrols so catching drunks is a more consistent effort and not just seasonal.
“The hope is that’s enough to convince people that are having that, ‘Maybe I can make it home,’ thought, and turn it into, ‘Let me take an Uber home,’” said Egdorf. “Nine times out of ten it’s true -- it is a good person that just made a mistake. But that mistake is still a crime and that mistake still has the potential to kill somebody.”
Teare said prison time is not even a consideration until a person’s third DWI, when it becomes a felony. Even then, Teare said a third DWI typically results in a lengthy felony probation. Teare said it is not until a person’s fourth or more DWI that juries will hand down prison time. Prior to that, Teare said, many jurors sympathize with a defendant if that is the only crime they are facing.
“The vast majority of every person in a jury pool is going to have made that mistake at least once in their lives,” said Teare. “Once you get to the fourth and the fifth and the sixth, juries are done with it.”
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