Posted at: 12/17/2012 6:03 PM
Updated at: 12/17/2012 6:20 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez is on a crusade to toughen New Mexico's drunk driving penalties. She's getting help from a Colorado couple who have a deeply personal reason to get involved.
Aileen and Zachary Smith of Colorado Springs lost their unborn baby son Dimitri last June when a suspected drunk driver slammed into their car on I-25 in San Miguel County. On Monday they met with Gov. Martinez at the Capitol to talk about her DWI proposals for the upcoming legislative session, and about the Smiths' own ideas about better ways to crack down on drunk drivers in our state.
"I refuse to go and be quiet about it and grieve privately about it," said Aileen Smith. "I think that's one of the major things that we've done is that we have really worked hard to say we're not going to just forget our son."
"We just decided that being quiet isn't an option," said Zachary Smith. "We had to make noise, get angry and do everything we could to change something."
The Smiths started a website called "Justice for Dimitri" and so far they have gathered nearly 3,00 signatures on their online petition to reform New Mexico's drunk driving laws.
"We're hopeful that the story of Dimitri will become one that people can personalize," said Gov. Martinez. "Sometimes we have short memories and we forget the last tragedy that was experienced in this state. Here's a woman that was seven months pregnant, just passing through."
Ramon Hernandez of Las Vegas is the driver who slammed into the Smiths' car last June. Police said he was four times over the legal limit for alcohol in the bloodstream. He has four prior DWI convictions. He is awaiting trial on charges of vehicular homicide and felony DWI for the crash that killed Dimitri.
One of the Governor's goals is to increase penalties for repeat offenders like Hernandez.
"Number seven conviction is no different than number 21, no different," Gov. Martinez said. "The penalty is the same, so we should make it so that on your eighth and subsequent convictions you should serve a second degree felony sentence which is 15 years behind bars."
Ninth conviction - 15 more years. 10th conviction - ditto.
Martinez is also pushing for felony DWIs to count toward habitual offender status, and for the state to have the power to seize the vehicles of people arrested for driving on a license that was revoked for drunk driving. It's something the city of Albuquerque is doing right now.
Also on the Governor's list is legislation that would allow lab technicians to participate in DWI cases via video-conferencing instead of appearing in person to testify. This would allow them more time to deal with the ever-expanding workload in the state laboratory. She favors the same kind of video-conferencing for police officers in administrative hearings for drivers license revocations.
The legislature convenes January 15 for a 60 day session.