JOSH, PAWNIE AND NICK STROUD, left to right, testified before a State Senate committee in support of a bill that would increase penalties for drunken driving. The boys’ father and Pawnie’s husband, Ron Stroud, died in 2008 when a drunken driver col-See lided head-on with his car near Danville. CNHI photo by Scott L. Miley
JOSH, PAWNIE AND NICK STROUD, left to right, testified before a State Senate committee in support of a bill that would increase penalties for drunken driving. The boys’ father and Pawnie’s husband, Ron Stroud, died in 2008 when a drunken driver col-See lided head-on with his car near Danville. CNHI photo by Scott L. Miley
INDIANAPOLIS -- When Ron Stroud didn't come home from work on a Thursday evening in 2008, his family went looking for the married 41-year-old father of two.

They came upon a crash scene near Danville. A heating company's van had crossed the center line, careening head-on into Stroud's Honda Civic. Stroud was taken by helicopter to a local hospital. His family rushed toward the emergency rooms.

"As we walked back to the operating room, we saw him lying there, lifeless and broken on the table," recalled one of Stroud's sons, Josh. "It was crazy to think that I had hugged my dad for the last time the night before." 

"Seeing the gravestone with your father's name on it is one of the worst feelings, especially knowing that he could be here today. ... My family will forever be changed because of one man's choices," Josh Stroud said.

A 36-year-old man from Danville was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death. The suspect, who had a previous OWI, was sentenced to 16 years in prison with four years suspended.

The Strouds were dismayed when the man was released, due to time off for good behavior and other credits, from prison after serving four years.

"Victims and their families are left with a lack of faith in the judicial system alongside the incredible battle of grieving the loss of a loved one and continuing on with life," said another son, Nick Stroud.

The Strouds are asking the Indiana General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 186, which would make penalties stiffer for traffic-related crimes, particularly drunken driving.

This week, the bill, co-authored by state Sens. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, and Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, passed 7-0 out of the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law.

"This is an opportunity to increase the sentencing for the OWI offenses, especially those that have habitual offenders," said Stroud's widow, Pawnie. "That's important to us because it's a great injustice to our family, the sentence that was handed down, the amount that he actually served and the fact that it did not impact his life at all." 

Under one provision of the bill, a drunken driver who causes an accident that results in moderate bodily injury to another person commits a separate offense for each person who suffers moderate bodily injury as a result of an accident.

Tina Comer said she spent three years in therapy for depression after her 29-year-old brother, Damon, of Danville, died in a one-car accident Oct. 11, 2006. The driver pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death and was sentenced to two years in prison and three on probation.

"The guy who decided to drink and drive is the one who lived, and the punishment he received was nowhere close to that of a lost life, nowhere close," Tina Comer said.

Under Senate Bill 186, the penalty for causing the death of another person when operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated would increase from a Level 5 felony to Level 4 in certain instances. Level 5 felonies can result in sentences between one and six years, with the advisory sentence being three years. Level 4 felonies can lead to a sentence between two and 12 years, with an advisory sentence of six years.

Another provision of the bill would stipulate that a driver who operates a motor vehicle after his or her driving privileges have been suspended or revoked and causes an accident that results in injury or death could be charged with a separate offense for each person injured or killed. Multiple sentences could be served consecutively.

"There's much to be said about the level of DUI and OWI convictions in Indiana and the alarming rate of recurring offenses by the same individuals, let alone those that result in death," Nick Stroud said. "Corrective action must be taken to force different results."

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