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Ventura County

Local Accident Spawns Tougher State Drunk-Driving Law


As the holiday season winds down today, law enforcement officials are preparing for new state laws that aim to decrease the numbers of drunk-driving deaths in 2002.

"We're cracking down and we have zero tolerance for people driving impaired on our roads," Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) said at a news conference Monday at Ventura's California Highway Patrol headquarters. "We take these problems very seriously."

One law taking effect this year, sponsored by Jackson, was inspired by a Ventura County case. Under the law, drunk-driving convictions in which someone is killed or seriously injured will permanently remain on the driver's record. Previously, if no drunk-driving offense was committed in 10 years, a driver's record could be wiped clean.

Known as "Joshua's Law," it stems from the case of Diane Mannes, who killed three young men in 1989 while driving drunk on the Ventura Freeway. One of those killed was 19-year-old Joshua Oxenreider.

Mannes was arrested again in 2000 after officers found her driving with a .28 blood-alcohol level--more than three times the legal limit. But prosecutors had to treat her as a first-time offender with lesser charges because the vehicular manslaughter conviction was more than a decade old. She was sentenced to six months in jail last February.

Linda Oxenreider, Joshua's mother and the state chairwoman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury pushed for the new penalties. Oxenreider said she hopes the new legislation will prevent repeat drunk-driving offenses.

"At least Joshua's death isn't in vain, because his name is in the laws of California," said Oxenreider, a Camarillo resident.

CHP officers in Ventura County made 1,530 drunk-driving arrests in 2001.

And drunk drivers were involved in 253 accidents investigated by the CHP, including crashes that injured 154 people and killed eight.

Another law taking effect today requires that all children 6 years old and younger or weighing less than 60 pounds be strapped into child-safety seats, Jackson said. Previously, the cutoff for safety seats was 4 years old or 40 pounds.

The change stems from studies that have shown a disproportionate number of children ages 4 to 7 are injured or killed in car accidents. More than 47% of the children in those studies were not restrained in car booster seats, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The new law will require more than 1.1 million children in the state to be more safely secured in vehicles, Jackson said.

"This is critical, and we're going to save a number of lives with it," she said.

CHP Capt. Scott MacGregor said the law is also indirectly linked to the agency's goal of reducing the number of fatalities, particularly among children, in drunk-driving accidents.

Parents may need to purchase a new booster seat to comply with the regulations. Fines are $250 for the first offense and $675 for the second, MacGregor said.

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