Senate to pass bill stiffening penalties for drunk drivers who kill on roadways

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May 26—CONCORD — The state Senate on Thursday is expected to endorse a mother's bid to honor her late son with legislation that stiffens the punishment for repeat drunken drivers who kill or maim others on New Hampshire highways.

Earlier this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously endorsed legislation (HB 179) that would lead to extended terms of imprisonment for anyone guilty of negligent homicide after having been convicted of driving drunk before.

Beth Shaw has spent the past few years pursuing this measure to memorialize her son.

"It's a very important change that will hopefully save lives," she said Thursday.

Tyler Shaw, 20, was in his truck, idling at a stop sign at the Exit 1 on-ramp of Interstate 89 on Logging Hill Road in Bow the night of April 30, 2018, when Joseph Leonard, then 37, of Derry, drove his car into Shaw's truck at about 60 mph, killing him instantly.

Leonard's blood-alcohol content was .16, twice the legal limit, and the DWI case was his third, including a 2010 conviction after another accident when his BAC was three times the legal limit.

Leonard is serving a six- to 12-year prison sentence after his conviction for negligent homicide, which other states call vehicular homicide.

This bill would allow a judge to increase the punishment in cases like Leonard's to 15 to 30 years. Anyone with one previous DWI who killed someone in an auto accident would be sentenced to state prison for 10 to 20 years.

The same extended prison term could apply if the driver was guilty of aggravated drunken driving and had caused "serious bodily injury."

Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, said the Senate panel made a minor change that made clear the bodily injury at issue had to be someone other than the driver.

"I think at some point society needs to step in and say enough is enough," Carson said.

"Tyler Shaw died, a young man with a lot of promise and it devastated his family's future."

After his second DWI conviction, Leonard was sentenced to 12 months in jail, but the judge suspended the entire term. The judge ordered an ignition interlock device be installed in Leonard's car to prevent the car from starting if it recorded a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit.

Shaw said six months after it was put into the car, Leonard blew a .16 into the device, twice the legal limit.

In 2016, the state held a hearing on whether to keep the device in place. A Department of Safety hearings examiner extended the use of the device for another six months. But six months after it was removed, Leonard was driving home drunk from his job in Lebanon when he killed Shaw.

Once the Senate acts Thursday, the bill will go back to the House of Representatives to consider the Senate changes.

klandrigan@unionleader.com

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