Examining the Crash that Caused Arizona Lawmakers to Increase DUI Penalties

How can one accident lead to significant legal change?

A horrific drunk driving accident that happened in the 1970s ultimately led to increasingly strict DUI laws in the state of Arizona, thanks in part to the interest of one investigative journalist.  The accident happened on Easter Sunday in 1971 in northern Arizona. A 26-year-old driver who was drunk at the time of the accident plowed into a car parked in the emergency lane. Three of the college students inside were killed, while the fourth suffered catastrophic and irreversible injuries. The drunk driver pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in jail, but served just six months. The case sparked the interest of investigative reporter Don Bolles, whose follow up later led to statewide legal reform. Our Phoenix, Arizona DUI lawyers discuss this case which ultimately had much import to Arizona DUI law. 

The Article that Changed the Laws 

Intrigued by the short amount of time that the drunk driver served for causing the deaths of three people, Don Bolles reached out. He interviewed the driver, who reported that he was offered a plea deal to three counts of manslaughter. Though he was supposed to serve a year, the sheriff had the power to ultimately determine how long he served. The driver further admitted he was drunk that night, having consumed between four and six drinks. He had previously been stopped for drunk driving a year ago but was not charged. In Bolles’ interview, the driver expressed little remorse for his actions.

Along with Bolles’ interviews, the parents of the students killed also started a letter-writing campaign expressing outrage with the drunk driver’s short sentence. All of these items were published in the newspaper, and readers listened. The governor went on to champion for tougher drunk driving laws, calling for the legislature to lower the blood alcohol rate from .15% to .10%.  The bill passed in 1972 with a unanimous vote in the House.

Today, Arizona is known for having some of the toughest DUI laws in the country. These strict laws stem, at least in part, from serious drunk driving accidents that changed the public’s view of the crime. Due to the harsh penalties faced by DUI defendants, anyone charged with a DUI will need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. 

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