The mother of a local DUI victim says she is “very encouraged” by the support she has seen both locally and in the state Capitol for passage of a law named in her late son’s honor.
Kim Ledford, along with her husband, Danny, were joined by a dozen other local residents and supporters as they journeyed to Nashville on Monday to reboot the move to pass tougher penalties for those involved in vehicular deaths caused by intoxication.
Called “Dustin’s Law,” the bill would specify that a person would be committing aggravated vehicular homicide if that person commits vehicular homicide and, at the time of the offense, the person had: (1) a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.20 percent or (2) a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.08 percent and any blood concentration of methamphetamine.
“I was very encouraged. This is the [farthest] it has ever gone,” Kim Ledford said.
She said state Rep. Eric Watson, who co-sponsored the bill along with state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, plans to introduce a budget amendment that would add the $450,000 necessary for added incarceration time to the governor’s budget.
There are also hopes that Gov. Bill Haslam would make the legislation part of a proposed package on revamped methamphetamine laws.
Ledford said Watson told her the governor would “absolutely” be made aware of the new proposals.
The bill has gotten the attention of Tennessee’s secretary of state.
Tre Hargett made what Ledford described as “an unexpected appearance” at Monday’s event.
His presence, as a high ranking administration official, was seen as a positive sign from the highest level of state government.
“I appreciate the sponsors’ work to ensure stricter penalties for vehicular homicide in the instances covered by ‘Dustin’s Law’,” Hargett noted.
Watson said the legislation would be an important message to those who risk the lives of others by driving under the influence.
“A death caused by driving under the influence is one of the most preventable tragedies there is because those people make a choice before getting behind the wheel,” Watson said. “I believe we must do a better job of cracking down on those who choose to drive under the influence — people have to learn there are consequences for their actions.”
Ledford again spoke of her appreciation for the support she has seen since Dustin’s death almost four years ago.
“This community has been so supportive,” Ledford said. “I don’t want anyone to think I am not grateful. But I sometimes think this is one of those things that unless it happens to you, it’s almost impossible to fully understand why someone like me has the passion for this I do.”
She said it is “overwhelming” that they are finding support from everyone contacted.
“There have been over 4,000 hits on the story the Banner posted only a few weeks ago,” Ledford said. “That tells me that people are following this. People remember this.
“It meant a lot to me to have the secretary of state take the time out of his busy schedule to come and listen to what we had to say, and to hear his encouraging words. I was shocked somebody as high up as he would take the time to do what he did.”
She acknowledged passage of the bill will not change the fact Dustin was killed by an intoxicated driver who is now serving a 10-year prison term.
Ledford said that person will be up for parole in September and she plans to express opposition to the early end of that sentence.
“If I can change one person from deciding to get behind the wheel while they are intoxicated because they think they are going to spend more time in jail, then that’s what I’m going to do,” Ledford said.
She said there is still the need for residents to contact their representatives.
“What we saw Monday is encouraging and heartening, but there is still a difficult push to make this happen and it can only happen when the people call and say, ‘This is what we want. This is what we need. This is what we ought to have,’” Ledford said.