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One OWI and the 14 that got away

Friday, October 12, 2007

Today, the Plymouth County Attorney's office is handling about 75 OWI cases -- Operating a vehicle While Intoxicated. In August there were 81 cases pending in the county.

Those numbers might seem high, but County Attorney Darin Raymond said they're likely not even close to the number of drivers under the influence on the road.

"What we know is we probably apprehend an individual one out of every 15 times they drive intoxicated," Raymond said. "That's the national average. It's a little bit scary."

What is also slightly scary, he noted, is that four out of the five of recent serious injury or homicide by motor vehicle cases have involved OWI allegations or convictions.

Those numbers are up, he said.

"Serious injury by motor vehicle and vehicular homicide have become alarmingly prevalent in the last year," Raymond said. "If we have one case like that every two or three years, that was a lot, and now we had four in one year."

Not all OWI cases necessarily mean alcohol was part of the picture. Some OWIs involve what Raymond calls "drug drivers."

Marijuana and methamphetamines are almost exclusively the drugs involved in the non-alcohol cases, according to Assistant County Attorney Amy Oetken, who handles many of the OWI cases for the county.

"Once or twice a year we'll see a case where somebody's under the influence of a prescription medication that they're abusing," Raymond said

In cases where drug abuse is suspect, rather than make the individual take a breath test, the law enforcement officers will request a urine test, which is sent to a crime lab to determine the level of the drug present.

"They've determined with each drug what that level is where they are per se 'under the influence,'" Oetken said.

Among the OWI cases the county attorney's office handles, a number are repeat offenders.

"We're always amazed at how many cases we have each month where there's a fourth or fifth offense," Raymond said.

In the past three years, an average of about 200 OWI cases have gone through the county's court system.

Nearly one-third of those cases are repeat offenders. Each year, more than 10 percent of the OWI cases involve people who have been caught three, four, five or more times.

Plymouth County's annual OWI numbers, which have hovered at about the same level for the past three years, are similar to Sioux County's, a similar-sized county in terms of population.

In Iowa, a first offense OWI can mean up to 48 hours to one year in jail, driver's license revoked for up to 180 days, and up to a $1,500 fine, a second offense: seven days jail, driver's license revoked for up to two years and up to a $5,000 fine, a third offense: 30 days jail or commit to prison for 5 years maximum, driver's license revoked for up to six years, and up to a $2,500 fine.

A first OWI, counting all the connected expenses, can cost a person about $4,500, according to the Iowa Alcoholic Beverage Department.



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