ANDERSON COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – In South Carolina, anyone convicted of a DUI resulting in the death of a parent or a guardian could soon be required to pay child support to a victim’s family.
State House Representative West Cox of District 10 said he filed House Bill 5299 last week, and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
“[I] filed a bill that would require anyone that gets convicted of–if they’re in a DUI and they get convicted of manslaughter–if that person that they killed has minor children [then] they have to pay child support and maintenance for that minor child until that child reaches 18 and graduates from high school,” Cox said.
Cox said children left without a parent or guardian become secondary victims of DUI. Now, he wants offenders to pay.
“Too often children in this state are left without support as the victim of DUI. It is time for the offenders to pay to support those children. Tragically, children are left without support in these cases, and we need to force the person responsible for the death to provide for that child.”
I saw this had been done in some other states and thought that’s a good idea. You know, if those people are out being reckless and they kill somebody, that child needs somebody to support them. They’ve just lost a parent, they’ve just lost a guardian, and so you know, they’ve lost that huge financial support in their life and somebody should take care of that for them, and it should be the individual that caused them to lose their parent or guardian.
This is really just trying to make sure that if you’re a bad actor, you go out and you kill somebody with a car, or a boat, it covers boat DUI’s as well, and you leave behind minor children, then you need to be financilly responsible for them.Rep. West Cox, State House District 10 in a press release
In April 2011, the lives of Joy Blakely and her family were forever changed. Blakely’s then-husband, David, and oldest son Trey were riding bikes preparing for a triathlon.
“They were both hit by a drunk [driver], a 63-year-old drunk driver. David was killed on impact, and Trey was declared brain dead on the next day,” Blakely said.
She said David died on April 3, 2011, and Trey died the following day. Blakely said the crash happened in North Carolina, but that she now lives in South Carolina.
“April is always just really hard, because it was the crash date, David’s death, Trey’s death, and then Trey’s birthday. His birthday was April 13th and in my heart, he should be here, and he should be 29 now. Because of a drunk driver who made a very poor personal decision they’re both gone and we can’t get them back,” Blakely said.
Blakely was left a widow with 11-year-old twins.
“I can remember, just initially wondering how am I going to survive, how am I going to make this,” Blakely said.
“Considering everything I was very fortunate to have a solid career that enabled me to be able to take care of the twins. And I’ve remarried and we’ve been able to give the twins, basically, a normal life, but I just can’t even imagine if I had been a full-time homemaker or just had a job for my spending money or something,” she said.
“Even for me, David had just changed jobs, maybe within the month prior to his being hit and killed, and his benefits hadn’t kicked in yet, which meant his life insurance hadn’t kicked in yet, that would have at least been something that I could’ve put away for the twin’s college education.”
Stories like Blakely’s are what inspired Cox to file the bill.
“If they go to jail, once they’re released from jail they have a year to start making the payments,” Cox said. “There can be a payment plan set up and then they still have to pay until they’ve paid off. If there’s insurance proceeds, then the proceeds would off-set and then the family is able to collect those through a court action or a settlement. It offsets that the individual has to pay, but they still have to pay something. Right now, your best hope is to collect insurance proceeds and hope that something is out there. The payments are based off [of what] family court would set…They’ll take into account normal child support factors, you know, the loss of income, the lifestyle that the child is accustomed to, what other amounts that [have] to support itself and things like that. But then the court would make the award, and then the individual just like regular child support, would pay that to the clerk of court and then the court would actually pay it over to that child’s now remaining guardian,” Rep. Cox said.
The organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving South Carolina and North Carolina, voiced its support.
“Many legislators are looking at this and typically they’re called Bentley’s Law, named after a young man in Missouri who lost his parents in an alleged DUI crash; that case is actually still pending,” said Steven Burritt, Regional Executive Director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving South Carolina/ North Carolina. “It’s actually less than a year. So it’s pretty amazing how fast this has kind of spread across the country.”
“We think it’s positive. It holds drunk drivers accountable. It sends the message both to those who might commit the crime, and to the community that this is serious,” Burritt said. “It’s important to keep in mind that when a drunk driver crash occurs, and particularly when a life is lost, every single aspect of that person’s life is turned upside down–emotional, spiritual, physical, I mean, everything changes. And certainly one of those things can be the economic impact as well, particularly if the person who dies was the person with the primary income for the family. So, in addition to all the grief, the heartache, and the physical recovery, what else may be going on, they’re literally also thinking ‘how am I going to keep food on the table’?”
While Blakely said she believes her kids didn’t suffer or miss out on anything, she supports change for other victims.
“I think it would be great…anything that could help to fill the void of another parent…of a child,” Blakely said.
Rep. Cox said they have two weeks left of the legislative session, and they’re working to get this into law this year.
“We’re getting near the end of session. We already have nine co-sponsors. There’s a senate bill, as well. I saw that one got filed over there. So, I think there’s going to be some momentum for this. We’ve only got two weeks of session left, so we have to be creative to get this into law this year, but if it doesn’t happen this year, we’re certainly make it top priority next year when legislature returns in January,” Rep. Cox said.
To learn more about the bill, click here.