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Concord mother who lost 20-year-old son to drunk driver wants enhanced penalties

  • Beth Shaw talks with N.H. State Sen. Dan Feltes after testifying at the State House on Tuesday, January 28, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Beth Shaw pauses while testifying at the State House trying to change the negligent homicide law on Tuesday, January 28, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Beth Shaw testifies at the State House as she works to change the negligent homicide law on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTERMonitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 1/28/2020 3:22:26 PM

A Concord mother who lost her son in a drunken driving crash in 2018 is advocating for a bill that would increase the minimum time served for negligent homicide if a defendant has previous DWI convictions. 

The drunk driver who killed 20-year-old Tyler Shaw in April 2018 had already been arrested twice for driving under the influence at the time of Tyler’s death, his mother, Beth Shaw, told the Senate judiciary committee Tuesday morning. 

“When Tyler was killed, the only thing I had left to find solace in was justice, I was shocked and saddened when I learned the current penalties for negligent homicide and an aggravated DWI are 7 ½ to 14 and 3 ½ to seven years,” she said. 

“How could my innocent, law-abiding son’s life only be worth a maximum sentence of 7 ½ years? How could 7½ years be an adequate punishment for a man that has repeatedly broken New Hampshire law with multiple DWI convictions?”

The bill Shaw is backing seeks to increase the penalties for a drunk driver who either seriously injures or kills another person after already having multiple other DWI convictions. Under the new law, repeat offenders who cause another serious crash would face a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 to 20 years, and someone with two or more previous convictions would face 15 to 30 years. 

Joeseph Leonard, Jr., the driver in Shaw’s crash, was first arrested as a teenager for driving under the influence, according to court documents. Next, he was arrested after he caused a single-car crash eight years ago while he was intoxicated.

An interlock sobriety test was installed in his car, and during one occasion while the interlock was installed in his car, he blew a .16. Six months after the interlock was removed from Leonard’s vehicle, he was involved in the crash that killed Tyler in Bow. 

Leonard was ultimately sentenced to six- to 12 years in the New Hampshire State Prison in October. He was originally offered a plea deal that called for five years, but Judge Richard McNamara rejected it and added another year to Leonard’s sentence.

McNamara said that Leonard’s history of driving intoxicated was a major factor in raising his sentence and the agreement was “slightly below what I think is appropriate.” 

“It wasn’t a homicide, but it wasn't an accident. It was a tragedy," McNamara said. “The aggravating factors are of course, this is a third DWI with an interlock violation.” 

Senate Bill 743 is being sponsored by Concord Democrat Dan Feltes, who also spoke in front of the committee on Tuesday. 

“Look, I don’t typically, as you know madam chair and members of the committee, advocate necessarily for enhanced sentences, this is a case where it is a glaring gap in the law,” he said. “We need to enhance sentences for subsequent DUI, aggravated DUIs and negligent homicides. It makes sense – if you have a DWI, it should be a wake-up call that we’re sending a message as a state, a strong public policy message that if you do it again, something like what happened to Tyler Shaw could happen to someone.” 

“This bill is going to send a clear public policy message – ‘Don’t drink and drive, people get hurt, people die and there’s going to be consequences,’ ” Feltes added. 

During her testimony, Shaw pointed to other sentences imposed in New Hampshire the year the driver responsible for her son’s death was sentenced. 

“In 2019, the following sentences were handed down in New Hampshire courtrooms: A Moultonborough man was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in a teen’s rape; a Gorham man was sentenced to 45 to 90 years for kidnapping; a Laconia man was sentenced to five years in prison for robbery; a Manchester man was sentenced to 16 ½ years for assaulting and robbing someone who was assisting federal agents. 

“As terrible as those crimes are, the penalty for negligent homicide, aggravated DWI, the murder of an innocent victim, should be more than a maximum of 7 ½ years in prison, especially when the driving record of the defendant is considered,” she said. 

Shaw said she’s been making connections with other local families who have lost loved ones in the months since her son’s death and researching how the court system approaches negligent homicide cases. 

She said in addition to an increased sentence for those with multiple convictions, Shaw wants to see a lifetime interlock mandated after a second conviction of a DWI and a lifetime license suspension after a third conviction. Also, she said she doesn’t think that once a person is convicted, his or her time in prison should count toward the time they lose their license. For example, Leonard lost his license for 10 years during his sentencing. If he is released in six years, he will only have to wait four years to get his license back. If he appeals, he could get it back sooner, Shaw said. 

Lastly, Shaw said that she thinks a person’s license should automatically be suspended when he or she is charged with negligent homicide. Leonard had his license for seven months after the crash that killed Tyler. 

In general, officials need to impose more deterrents on drunk driving, she said. 

“The typical penalties imposed for multiple DWI convictions didn’t deter Mr. Leonard from the evil he inflicted on our family,” Shaw said. “When we know better, we do better. It is time for New Hampshire law to step up and do better for its citizens by enhancing drunk driving penalties. Please do not let Mr. Leonard’s history be repeated.” 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, Democrat Martha Hennessey, listened attentively as Shaw spoke.

“We admire your courage in being here and advocating for your son,” Hennessey said after Shaw had finished. “Thank you.”

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