Family of DUI victim speaks out on Senate Bill 44 being killed in committee. And a Ballot Measure may be coming

The family of Maegan Spindler, who was killed in a Drunken Driving accident in 2013 had been strong backers of Senate Bill 44, a bill offered by the Attorney General to reclassify Vehicular Homicide as “a crime of violence.”

The Spindlers are providing notice this morning that they’re not happy at all that the measure has been killed in conference committee, and offer the following statement on the bill’s demise, which directly states that they’re done with this process, and plan on taking it straight to the people:

We received an email from Charles McGuigan, Chief Deputy Attorney General that SB 44, the Attorney General’s bill to reclassify Vehicular Homicide as “a crime of violence” has been killed in a legislative Conference Committee.

Our family’s statement is as follows:

We are the parents of Maegan Spindler, an innocent victim DUI killer Ronald Ray Fischer, Jr.   Many people know of the circumstances of Maegan’s and Dr. Robert Klumb’s deaths on July 8, 2013 in Pickstown at the hands of Fischer.  He drove drunk, steering into a parking lot at highway speed.  We still wonder if Fischer saw his victims, as an eyewitness driving behind him did.  Maegan actually survived a short while after being thrown 120’.  There were no viewable remains; no last look at our beautiful daughter.  Rob was killed “instantly”.  It was a horrifically violent crime.

Fischer was a first-time arrestee for DUI with BAC of 0.232 and tested positive for marijuana.  A chronic alcoholic at age 28, he failed inpatient rehab twice.  He was acquitted of 2 counts of First Degree Manslaughter by a sympathetic Judge in a bench trial.  Instead, Fischer was convicted of 2 counts of Vehicular Homicide.  He was sentenced to 2 consecutive 15 year sentences.  Because Vehicular Homicide is not “a crime of violence” under South Dakota law, Fischer will likely serve only 30% of his sentence because of “presumed parole”.  He will serve 4 and a half years for killing our daughter.  He will be out of prison in a bit over 6 years for the two deaths.

We are mystified about the reasons why SB 44 failed.  The Attorney General and the State’s Attorneys Association negotiated with the Governor’s office for 4 long months to craft a compromise version of SB 44 which included a new Aggravated Vehicular Homicide crime for these most egregious cases.  It was passed by the Senate on February 22 by a 28-6 margin.

The House Judiciary Committee, however, did not like the amended SB 44 and reverted to the original proposal to reclassify Vehicular Homicide as “a crime of violence”.  Because the Senate and House bills differed it was referred to the Conference Committees.

It is worth noting that in House Judiciary testimony, the Governor’s General Counsel Jim Seward, stated that the governor does not believe that Vehicular Homicide is “a crime of violence”.   He said the governor believes if that such crimes fail to have criminal intent (the legal concept of Mens Rea).

Our family believes that as soon as a drunk gets in a car with the intent to drive, criminal intent clearly is formed.  Everybody knows DUI is against the law, including the governor and his general counsel.  How can the public ever expect any meaningful DUI reform when Governor Daugaard, the chief public safety officer of the state, apparently believes that a drunk driver that kills people simply had bad luck and had no criminal intent for driving drunk?

What about justice for the victims?  The average time served for Vehicular Homicide, as reported by the Legislative Research Council is 3.36 years.  The question is what sort of message does South Dakota wish to send for the most extreme DUI crimes?

The message the governor and legislature have sent by their inaction is that a life taken by a drunk driver is worth only 3.36 years of incarceration.  They believe that innocent life is cheap.

The only way meaningful DUI reform can happen in South Dakota  is through a ballot initiative.  We intend to work with South Dakotans to pursue this goal.

Gregg & Susan Spindler

What are your thoughts?

7 Replies to “Family of DUI victim speaks out on Senate Bill 44 being killed in committee. And a Ballot Measure may be coming”

  1. Springer

    I will sign that petition! I have always believed whenever a person who is drunk gets behind the wheel and drives that the vehicle then becomes a weapon, and any accident that results from that should be treated as such. I guess this is just another example of what Gov. Daugaard has morphed into, and it’s not who we thought we elected.

  2. Troy Jones

    I don’t know how appropriate this is to say in this setting but it is what came to my mind when I read this. It was written by a person whose audience was friends of people who have lost a child. (I don’t have access to the book so it is as I remember it).

    When you listen to a person who shares with you any aspect of their loss you have listen with an intensity that is extra-ordinary. They are both irrational and profoundling wise at the same time. They don’t speak with just their intellect. They are speaking from a place deep inside themself formed by an experience that gives them a transcending insight into humanity’s very essence- Divine Love.

    Most of you will not listen with your head, heart, soul and imagination, your whole being, because you are afraid to open yourself and go there. And, when you don’t, you will be unable to help your friend grieve and you will miss a gift they are giving to you that is immeasurable. And, that will be your loss.

  3. Anonymous

    There is law and definition which differs from the heart……., with that said I’m very sorry for their loss

  4. Anon

    I would do the same thing they are doing. There are accidents and then there are cases like this — a .232 BAC. They should take it to the ballot. My understanding is that the bill wouldn’t require a mandatory minimum but would require the convicted felon to serve more of their actual sentence before being released. Goes back to ‘truth-in-sentencing’ — 15 doesn’t equal 15 it equals 4.5. Only in government…

  5. duggersd

    I, too sympathize for their loss. I cannot fathom anything worse than losing a child to a drunk driver. I also do not have a problem with having very stiff sentences for vehicular homicide. However, I do not see this as a crime of violence. In no way did Fischer intentionally aim his car at the victims. To me, this would be similar to someone who negligently shoots someone and kills them. Yes, it is a crime. Yes, the person should be punished. No, it is not a crime of violence. Stupidity? Yes.

    1. Gregg Spindler

      When a person makes a decision to drive drunk, there is criminal intent. The contention of the governor was that when bad things happen, they were separate and apart from the original criminal act of driving drunk.

      Our family, the Attorney General, the State’s Attorneys feel otherwise. We believe if the law passed it would have passed any constitutional challenges. There is ample precedent for such laws outside of South Dakota.

      I believe that the house voting on the original measure was a maneuver to kill the entire notion of changing the any DUI laws. HB 1085, sponsored by Don Haggar also went down badly in the house judiciary committee.

      There are people at the highest levels of government that simply want to maintain business as usual when it comes to selling high-test malt liquor and fortified wines to people that shouldn’t consume it in the first place. They seems to think that chronic alcoholics are capable of “individual responsibility”. Our family happened to become collateral damage with this business model.