‘Drake’s Law’ gets its start today

MARSHALL – As a basketball player turned coach, Brad Bigler usually spends most of his time in March focusing on the hardwood. This year, however, Bigler, the head men’s basketball coach at Southwest Minnesota State University, has his sights set on something much more important than hoops.

Bigler and his wife Heather and other family members will join District 16A Republican Rep. Chris Swedzinski at the state Capitol today to introduce “Drake’s Law,” a bill designed to increase penalties for criminal vehicular homicide for drivers with past qualified convictions in a 10-year period.

“It’s an opportunity for us to get legislation moving in the right direction,” Brad Bigler said Monday. “I don’t know if this bill is the answer, but it addresses repeat offenders and that’s the focus of what we want to do. It’s written and its consequences are fair. Anytime someone goes through a situation like this you would probably want more consequences, but it’s definitely a move in the right direction.”

The bill is named after Drake Bigler, Brad and Heather’s five-month-old son who was killed in July 2012 when a drunk driver crashed into the Biglers’ SUV near Starbuck.

The crash seriously injured Brad Bigler and Heather’s grandmother, Sharon Schuler.

Dana Schoen of Starbuck, the driver of the truck that crossed the center line and crashed into the Biglers’ vehicle, was not hurt. He was arrested at the scene and had a blood alcohol content of 0.351, according to the criminal complaint – more than four times the legal limit in Minnesota.

It was the third time he had been arrested for driving while intoxicated.

Last January, in front of a packed Pope County District Courtroom, Schoen was sentenced to 48 months in prison for criminal vehicular operation. On two other counts of criminal vehicular operation, he received stayed execution of sentence for 13 and 15 months. He was sentenced to three years probation with conditions, including treatment and aftercare program completion, abstain from drugs and alcohol and be subject to random testing.

Swedzinski, who is joined on the bill on the Senate side from Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, said the overall purpose of the legislation is to get people to stop drinking and driving by increasing the penalty for doing so when injuries or death result. And it also will target repeat offenders.

“If someone has a second or third offense this person should understand that bad things happen, and this bill would lift the bar up so a judge can look at that and hopefully keep these people off the streets longer,” Swedzinski said. “We’ve had some very unfortunate events with our community members; we can never bring those people back who are lost but we want to keep those things from happening again.”

Swedzinski said the bill doesn’t necessarily go after that person who has an extra glass of wine, but repeat offenders like Schoen.

“These are people that have a history of making bad decisions,” Swedzinski said. “We’re trying to keep them off the roads. We want to encourage good behavior.”

Swedzinski isn’t sure how far Drake’s Law will make it during the 2014 session, but sees today’s bill introduction as a good start.

“We’re working to try and get a hearing,” he said. “Of course, we’ve all been told this is an ‘unsession,’ but there are a lot of other things going around at the Capitol. These aren’t things that happen overnight, but this is a chance to have some good conversations.”