TOPEKA — Olathe school instructor Caitlin Vogel’s death in a traffic accident caused by a two-time drunken driving offender inspired the House on Friday to endorse legislation elevating the sentence for habitual violators convicted of involuntary manslaughter or aggravated battery in DUI crashes.
The reforms contained in House Bill 2439 were christened “Caitlin’s Law” to recognize tragedy of the Stilwell woman’s death in the 2016 wreck in Johnson County. The measure was advanced to final action Monday.
Rep. Russ Jennings, a Lakin Republican and chairman of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, said the driver of the vehicle that struck Vogel knew he was impaired when deciding to slip behind the wheel of a borrowed SUV not fitted with a alcohol breath-testing device.
“When interviewed by law enforcement officers in this case, he told them, ‘Yes, I’ve been drinking. I just wanted to go out and drive around for a while.’ He did,” Jennings said.
Jennings said testimony by Vogel’s parents in favor of legislation enhancing the criminal penalties was drenched in heartache and desire to shield other families from trauma.
“It would be fair to say it was the most emotional committee hearing I’ve experienced in the Legislature,” Jennings said.
The bill amends state law in the handling of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated battery cases tied to deaths or serious injuries resulting from crashes triggered by someone found guilty of driving under the influence. Provisions of the bill would apply if the motorist responsible for a crash had been previously convicted of a DUI and was driving despite a suspended or revoked license or having been declared a habitual violator.
Under the bill, the minimum sentence for aggravated battery related to a DUI accident would escalate from the current 38 months to a new benchmark of 47 months.
In addition, the minimum penalty for involuntary manslaughter under these circumstances would go up from 62 months to 89 months.
“I know what kind of carnage is out there,” said Rep. Virgil Weigel, a Topeka Democrat and former law enforcement officer. “This is a very good bill.”
Vogel died after James McAllister, Overland Park, ran a stop sign and broadsided her vehicle. McAllister, who had been convicted twice previously on DUI charges, was sentenced to 108 months in prison after pleading guilty in 2017 to involuntary manslaughter.
The House also vote 70-45 to advance to final action a bill extending the hours businesses can sell liquor by the drink in Kansas.
The contents of House Bill 2482 would enable public venues, clubs and drinking establishments to sell alcoholic beverages from 6 a.m. until 2 a.m. the following day. Existing state law sets the time frame for serving drinks to customers from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. the next day. Missouri and Nebraska open the doors at 6 a.m. for sales of liquor by the drink.
Rep. Sean Tarwater, R-Stilwell, said the expansion would serve businesses interested in attracting third-shift customers or individuals gathering to watch international sporting events. State law allows catering companies to begin offering alcoholic beverages at 6 a.m., said Rep. Brandon Whipple, D-Wichita.
“Stand with allowing businesses a little more regulatory freedom,” said Rep. Kristey Williams, R-Augusta.