It should be possible to enhance charges in repeat reckless driving cases
Claudia and Eric Fossum, a lovely senior couple from Fairview known for their tidy home and yard, and for cultivating apple trees, were northbound on U.S. 89 when a car spun across the center line and hit their vehicle at high speed.
Eric was seriously injured, but he is back on his feet. But nearly three months after the accident, Claudia is still in a rehabilitation facility.
On Dec. 16, local residents filled the Peterson Dance Hall for a music program and art auction. We understand the event raised more than $10,000. Eric Fossum spoke at the benefit. The program was transmitted into Claudia Fossum’s room at her rehab facility, where she would hear it, but not see it, because the accident has impaired her vision.
But that’s just half of the story. The rest of the story is that the accident shouldn’t have happened. And the person who caused it could get by with essentially a slap on the wrist.
The driver of the car that crossed the center line, Armando Tinoco, 26, was cited for DUI, driving on a suspended or revoked license, reckless driving, driving without insurance and carrying a dangerous weapon in his vehicle.
He has been officially charged with two counts (one for each of the Fossums) of “driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs resulting in injury,” both third-degree felonies. A third-degree felony is punishable by up to five years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine.
The Fossum accident was not Tinoco’s first misadventure behind the wheel. Previously, he had been cited in Sanpete County for speeding, improper passing, failure to observe a no-passing zone and driving on the wrong side of the road.
Last March, he was booked into jail for driving on a suspended or revoked license. The case ended in a guilty plea, and it appears his license continued to be suspended. Yet he continued to drive.
We can’t predict the course of the case, but there is a good chance Tinoco could be offered a plea agreement at below the felony level.
And despite his record, he could escape any prison time and perhaps be sentenced to somewhere between six months and one year in jail—or less.
We don’t blame our county attorneys. They’re charging in accordance with the law set by the Legislature. Under the Justice Reinvestment Act passed in 2015, which was designed to stem growth of the prison population, sentences have been reduced across the board.
If Claudia Fossum had been physically beaten causing the life-altering injuries she is now facing, the perpetrator probably would have been charged with attempted murder, not with the lowest level felony available under state law.
We would like to see a law permitting enhancement of charges where a repeat driving offense results in very serious injury.
Since that law is not yet on the books, we hope the prosecutors and judge handling the Tinoco case will be sensitive to the impact his behavior has had on Claudia Fossum, her husband and the whole community.e handling the Tinoco case will be sensitive to the impact his behavior has had on Claudia Fossum, her husband and the whole community.