The Pennsylvania Senate overwhelmingly passed “Deana’s Law” 43-6 Tuesday, a package of reforms to the state’s DUI laws that would increase penalties for repeat drunk drivers and implement new technology aimed at alerting law enforcement of possible infractions before drivers can get behind the wheel.
“Less than a year ago, Deana Eckman was violently and callously murdered by an individual now convicted of his sixth DUI,” said state Sen. Tom Killion, R-9 of Middletown, the bill’s prime sponsor. “With Senate passage of this legislation, we are a major step closer to honoring her memory and better protecting Pennsylvanians from the worst of the worst DUI offenders.”
Eckman, 45, was killed by David Strowhouer in a drunk-driving crash as she and her husband, Chris, were returning home from a family gathering. Strowhouer had five previous DUIs on his record in the prior 10 years, all with high rates of alcohol in his system.
Strowhouer was sentenced to 25 and a half to 50 years in state prison last week after pleading guilty in August to murder in the third degree, aggravated assault and related offenses for the Feb. 16 crash on Route 452 in Upper Chichester.
He previously 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 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.
Eckman’s mother, Roseanne DeRosa, has previously said allowing the sentence to run concurrent was a “big flaw” in the system that she and her family hoped to address with Killion’s help.
“There is no word strong enough to describe the lifelong pain of outliving your child,” said DeRosa. “I am grateful to the state Senate and especially Sen. Killion for their efforts to pay tribute to Deana by making sure no other family endures the tragedy that we have.”
Deana’s Law, Senate Bill 773, would require anyone convicted of a third DUI to serve a sentence consecutive to any other sentence imposed by the court and increase jail time for repeat offenders. Current sentencing guidelines for fourth and fifth offenses are three-and-a-half to seven years, but the bill would raise those to five to 10 years and 10 to 20 years, respectively.
“Repeat DUI offenders callously disregard the lives and safety of others,” said Killion. “Those convicted of these crimes should not be allowed the luxury of serving DUI sentences concurrently.”
“Had concurrent sentences not been imposed on the drunk driver who took Deana from us, he would have still been in prison when she was killed,” said Eckman’s father, Rich DeRosa.
The bill would also impose preventative measures by mandating statewide use of “continuous alcohol monitoring” devices, also known as CAM (or “SCRAM” for Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor). These devices are affixed to offenders in the same manner as electronic home monitoring devices, but sample and test the wearer’s perspiration for the presence of alcohol.
If the device senses alcohol in the wearer’s system, a signal is transmitted to a monitoring agency that can notify police to detain the person before they drive in the hopes of averting another tragedy.
Killion said the devices are as sensitive and reliable as Breathalyzers, and have been used for several years in York County as part of adjudicating DUI cases.
York saw a 90 percent decline in DUI recidivism within the first year of introducing CAM devices and a 21 percent drop in DUI fatalities over three years, according to Killion.
“CAM devices work,” he said. “They effectively deter offenders from consuming alcohol. You keep someone from drinking, you keep them from turning a vehicle into a killing machine.”
Senate Bill 773 now moves to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to be referred to the Transportation Committee. Killion thanked his Senate colleagues for supporting the bill and asked the House to move quickly on passage as well.