Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Fatal wreck shows need for stricter penalties for DWIs

By the Advocate Editorial Board
March 11, 2014 at 5:05 p.m.
Updated March 10, 2014 at 10:11 p.m.

An old saying goes, "Hindsight is 20-20." People often find themselves in situations that could have been prevented if one little decision had been changed. But there is no way to undo the past, so we try to learn from our mistakes and move on.

Unfortunately for the people of the Crossroads, a woman who was a wife, mother, grandmother, friend and so much more is dead because of the reckless actions of another person. Christopher Cordil-Cortinas is accused of driving a vehicle while intoxicated and trying to flee from law enforcement Feb. 27, which resulted in the death of 44-year-old Cynthia Partida when Cordil-Cortinas ran a red light and struck her vehicle during the chase, according to a police report. Cordil-Cortinas was charged with intoxicated manslaughter with a vehicle.

These details are horrifying enough, but the full truth becomes much more horrible when it is revealed that Cordil-Cortinas had at least three previous driving while intoxicated convictions. He was on probation and had just been arrested and released from prison again earlier that same week. According to a statement from Victoria County Criminal District Attorney Stephen Tyler, Cordil-Cortinas' probation officer noticed that his vehicle did not have an ignition interlock device Feb. 21 and asked a judge for a warrant for his arrest Feb. 25. The officer thought there was not enough evidence to hold Cordil-Cortinas and asked for his release Feb. 26 and planned to file a violation report with the district attorney's office a few days later. But the next day, a woman was dead, and Cordil-Cortinas was accused of being involved.

This incident is a worst-case-scenario look at the consequences of allowing those with a clearly proven history of drunken driving to continue operating a vehicle and endangering the lives of others. It is disturbing to note that while officials knew Cordil-Cortinas' vehicle lacked an ignition interlock device, he was still allowed to leave custody without ensuring that was rectified. In his statement, Tyler said Cordil-Cortinas was released without a judge hearing his full criminal background as part of a method used to deal with possible probation violations. The method is now being changed to require an immediate violation report if an offender is reported to be driving without the required ignition interlock device.

We are glad to see the district attorney's office is taking action to help prevent future incidents such as this. There were several steps along the way that could have prevented this tragedy, and we are saddened to think that this may be a problem on a statewide or even nationwide scale. Every time a person chooses to drive drunk, he or she is putting multiple lives at risk. We cannot afford to continue to view these reckless actions with leniency. Currently, the Texas penal code says a DWI is a Class B misdemeanor, except when a test shows an alcohol concentration level of 0.15 or more at the time the analysis was performed, which elevates the offense to a Class A misdemeanor. The offense doesn't become a felony unless there is a minor younger than 15 years old in the vehicle at the time of the offense, the driver injures or kills someone or it is the driver's third DWI conviction.

It is time for the criminal justice system to take a stronger stance on dealing with habitual DWI offenders. As with any other crime, the offender's first conviction does not mean that was the only time they have committed the crime. It was just the first time he or she was caught. Every time a person chooses to get behind the wheel while still drunk, that person is putting the lives of many innocent people at risk, and the penalties imposed by our justice system should reflect that. We realize there are times when a person makes a mistake once and is caught, but even that single mistake could have disastrous consequences if the driver causes a wreck.

In 2011, the state legislature looked at creating more stringent penalties for drunken driving, but the effort was rejected. It is time for legislators to look at the issue again. A DWI is an inexcusable crime, and it should be treated accordingly.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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