Ignition breathalyzers are supposed to prevent convicted drunk drivers from starting their cars if they’ve had too much to drink, but the I-Team found only about 56-percent of Wisconsin drivers required to install those devices, actually followed the judge’s order.
Our month-long investigation found systemic problems some argue give drunk drivers a free pass to injure others and in one case, kill an innocent man.
Paula Patoka, her husband, Roger, and two children were on their way to Shawano for a weekend vacation on the lake in August 2015.
Unfortunately, their vacation ended before it began.
Roger was riding on his beloved motorcycle as Paula and the kids followed behind in an SUV.
They were 10 minutes away from the lake when a drunk driver slammed into them head on.
“It was so loud and so hard and so fast,” Paula said.
Police say Tony Garvey crossed over the center line, striking Roger before plowing into Paula and their kids.
We just screamed and held each other and said ‘please don’t take him (Roger),’” Paula said.
Paramedics rushed Roger to the hospital, but it was too late.
“The sheriff came in and nodded to me and I knew he was dead,” Paula said.
Roger’s life was taken way too soon by a drunk driver who had no business being on the road that night.
Toxicology reports showed Garvey was three times over the legal driving limit.
In 2012, Garvey was convicted of his fourth OWI and ticketed for not installing an ignition interlock device.
He was sentenced to 14 months in prison, but served less than a year and was back on the streets.
“Killing Roger would have been Garvey’s fifth OWI,” Paula said. “There’s something wrong here. The punishment is not working.”
Garvey was also killed in the crash so no charges were filed in that incident.
In 2009, Wisconsin passed a law requiring all repeat drunk drivers and first-time offenders with a blood-alcohol content level of .15 or higher to install an ignition interlock device, also known as an IID.
The I-Team analyzed interlock device installation data from 2012 to 2015.
In that time frame, the DOT says Wisconsin judges ordered 54,329 IID’s be installed, but only 30,756 installs actually took place.
We asked the WisDOT/DMV Section Chief whether anyone is following up to ensure that people who have been ordered to install an IID actually follow through with it.
“DMV does not,” Section Chief Reggie Paradowski said. “I can’t speak for law enforcement.”
Law enforcement agencies didn’t have any answers for us on tracking ignition interlock installations either.
We checked with the following agencies:
- Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office
- Racine County Sheriff’s Office
- Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office
- Kenosha County Sheriff’s Office
Law enforcement advised us to check with the court system for statistics and information related to ignition interlock devices.
Surprisingly, nobody at any of the county courthouses we checked with monitors or follows up on ignition interlock court orders.
“The courts don’t monitor for compliance or for actual installations,” Racine County Clerk of Circuit Court Samuel Christensen said in an email. “That would be (the) sheriff’s office.”
We contacted the Racine County Sheriff spokesperson Lt. Steven Sokora for clarification.
“The RASO (Racine County Sheriff’s Office) does not keep a database,” Sikora wrote in an email. “The courts order them so they would have the best information.”
The Waukesha County Clerk of Circuit Court told me there was no easy way to obtain information on compliance rates related to ignition interlock installs. We received the same response from the Kenosha County Clerk of Circuit Court and were referred back to the DOT.
Milwaukee County Chief Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern gave us a similar response.
“We do not keep records related to which defendants are ordered to place interlock (breathalyzers) on their vehicles, nor are we informed by DOT if or when that actually takes place,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern said.
State Sen. Van Wanggaard is says more needs to be done to track down and hold repeat drunk drivers accountable.
"The judge is following the law and putting the requirement (for an interlock system) there, but there’s no follow-up to see if they are actually being compliant,” Wanggaard said.
Wanggaard is currently proposing new legislation to make it a criminal offense for a convicted drunk driver to operate any car without an ignition interlock device.
Right now, violating a judge’s order to install an ignition interlock device is a misdemeanor ticket with no jail time.
“That’s just not acceptable,” Wanggaard said.
Officers do write tickets to drivers who are supposed to have IID’s, but that only happens when a driver commits a traffic infraction for a different offense.
“Until we make a stop and get their driver’s license and identify that person, we have no idea who is supposed to have one,” Lt. Nathan Clarke with the Wisconsin State Patrol said.
The DOT says an officer’s mobile computer is supposed to notify them if the driver they pulled over is required to have an ignition interlock.
However, that’s not what we found in one case.
John Przybyla,76, was pulled over in 2014 for his 10th OWI.
The Adams County deputy who made the traffic stop said when he ran Przybyla’s name, there was not an alert indicating he needed to have an IID, even though a judge ordered one.
Przybyla was intoxicated, but blamed it on beer-battered fish he had eaten earlier in the day.
The jury didn’t buy his “fishy” defense and he was sentenced this year to 7 years in prison.
Fortunately, Przybyla got caught before he could hurt anyone, but it’s too late in Paula’s case.
In April, Governor Scott Walker signed two bills.
The first bill makes a fourth OWI arrest a felony, regardless of when the other offenses occurred.
The second bill gives judges the power to order repeat OWI offenders to get tested at a facility twice a day for alcohol.
Sen. Wanggaard says he plans to re-introduce his ignition interlock bill next session.
The DOT adds a repeat drunk driver ordered to install an IID cannot get a driver's license without showing proof the device has been installed.