MEDIA COURTHOUSE — State Sen. Tom Killion has announced the introduction of “Deana’s Law” in response to the drunk driving death of Deana Eckman earlier this year at the hands of a six-time DUI offender.
“We must utilize every tool we have at our disposal to keep those with multiple DUIs from endangering the lives of those on the roadways,” Killion said at a press conference in the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division conference room. “That’s the point here — we’re going for the worst of the worst. These are people with repeat DUIs and high blood-alcohol content levels.”
Deana Eckman, 45, was killed on Route 452 in Upper Chichester Feb. 16 when the 2019 Subaru WRX her husband Chris was driving was struck head-on by a Ram 2500 pickup truck being operated by David Strowhouer.
Strowhouer, 30, of the 2400 block of Woodside Lane in Newtown Square, pleaded guilty earlier this month to homicide by vehicle while DUI, murder of the third degree, aggravated assault, accidents involving death or injury, DUI and driving with a suspended license. He faces up to 85 years in prison with a $132,500 fine at sentencing, set for Nov. 14 before Delaware County Common Pleas Court Judge Mary Alice Brennan.
Strowhouer had a blood-alcohol level of 0.199 at the time of the crash, as well as traces of cocaine, diazepam and marijuana in his system, according to authorities. Online court records indicate he had five prior DUIs on his record since 2010 and was on probation for a previous offense.
Strowhouer pleaded guilty to his third and fourth DUIs at the same time in Chester County Oct. 2, 2017, and was given a total sentence of 18 to 36 months in state prison. Later that same month, he pleaded to a fifth DUI before Brennan in Delaware County for DUI: controlled substance — combination alcohol/drug as a third offense. The sentence in the Delaware County case was run concurrent to the Chester County sentence.
“If he was (sentenced) consecutive, he would have been in jail for a much longer time and the accident would have never, ever happened,” said Eckman’s mother, Roseann DeRosa. “He was released and he shouldn’t have been released. He should have been in jail for a long, long time. So the system failed, so we’re trying to fix the system to help another person in Deana’s name.”
Killion, a Delaware County Republican, said his proposal — Senate Bill 773, so named to reflect Deana Eckman’s birthdate — would amend current laws to require consecutive sentences for a third or subsequent offense, and increases statutory maximums by raising a second offense to a third-degree felony, third offense to a second-degree felony and a fourth or subsequent offense to a first-degree felony.
Those convicted of a fourth offense would be subject to a 5- to 10-year sentence rather than the current 3½ to 7 years, while fifth and subsequent DUI convictions would carry a 10 to 20 year sentence under the bill.
“Every DUI driver is a potential homicide,” said Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland, who helped Killion draft the legislation. “The pain felt by the Eckman and DeRosa families is one felt by all too many families across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This proposed legislation would address significant loopholes in our current standing DUI law. Most importantly, it addresses the need to get tougher on multiple DUI offenders.”
Copeland noted the proposal also directs the Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to explore establishing “DUI Courts” for first- and second-time offenders in an effort to stave off recidivism.
The bill also requires vehicle impoundment where a defendant has been convicted of two or more prior offenses; increases the period of restricted driving using an interlock ignition device capable of detecting the driver’s BAC from one year to two years in the case of a third or subsequent offense; and provides for the use of a “continuous alcohol monitoring” device after a second conviction.
Killion noted some counties already employ CAM devices voluntarily, but his bill would mandate their use across the state. The anklet tracks the wearer’s location and detects BAC through sweat, allowing law enforcement to swiftly locate and detain violators before they get behind the wheel.
Killion said York County has been using CAMs as part of DUI bail conditions for seven years and saw a 90 percent decline in DUI recidivism within the first year of use. Fatalities from DUIs also dropped 21 percent from the prior three years in that same period, he said.
“In this situation, (Strowhouer) had been drinking all day,” Killion said. “Someone could have grabbed him prior to this tragic accident … When you keep someone from drinking and driving, you keep them from turning a 3-ton vehicle into a killing machine.”
Killion said his bill has been referred to the Senate Transportation Committee with 13 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle and will be taken up when the General Assembly returns from its summer break next month.
DeRosa said her daughter was passionate about helping people, and making sure everyone stayed healthy and safe. She said she hopes this bill would carry that perspective forward in her name.
“I’m asking everyone to support Sen. Killion’s bill,” she said. “It will mean a lot, it will save a life. And I hate to say this, but if you think that it cannot happen to you, it can. Because it happened to us.”