Dec. 5, 2011
Stripping a killer of his driver’s license is virtually useless in preventing him from getting behind the wheel again.
David K. Dye proved that twice this year. The 43-year-old Westerville man had lost his license for life after he hit and killed a state trooper while driving drunk in 2001. He served eight years in prison for the crime.
After his release, Dye ignored the lifetime ban. He was pulled over in March after hitting another vehicle in Orange Township in southern Delaware County. Because of a paperwork error, his lifetime ban showed up as a suspended license after a conviction for drunken driving. He pleaded guilty in Delaware Municipal Court to failing to reinstate his license and paid a $250 fine.
Even after that lucky break, Dye drove again and was pulled over. This time, it was a Saturday afternoon in November, and he was on his way to an Ohio State football game with a mixed drink in his cup holder. By then, the error had been corrected. The police officer arrested Dye, charging him with driving after a lifetime ban — a third-degree felony — and an open-container violation.
Beyond drastic measures — in New Zealand, drivers caught on the road while under a license suspension lose the vehicle, no matter who owns it — there is little to deter scofflaws from driving under suspension.
“Short of taking their car away or putting them in jail, there’s nothing you can do,” said Kevin Lewis, director of driver programs for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.
More than 810,000 Ohio driver’s-license holders had some sort of suspension on their license last year, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles said. A spokesman said the agency could not narrow the number to lifetime suspensions.
Drivers can lose their license for life for four crimes: vehicular homicide with alcohol involved, involuntary manslaughter with alcohol involved, and aggravated vehicular homicide, either with or without alcohol.
Last year, 69 drivers were found guilty of one of those crimes, the Department of Public Safety said, although the state does not track whether the sentencing judges imposed a lifetime ban on driving.
In 2009, the number of drivers convicted was 51; in 2010, it was 72.
Dye, who is free on bail and was indicted on felony charges by a Delaware County grand jury last week, did not return a phone call seeking comment, nor did his attorney.
If convicted, Dye will spend at least a year in prison and possibly five years. He would join two other men sent to prison this year for driving while under a lifetime ban: Gregory Gordon of Summit County and William Kutz of Lucas County.
The drivers banned for life are the most-egregious, but Delaware Municipal Court interim Prosecutor Mark Corroto said he and his staff typically spend a third of their workday dealing with people caught driving while under a license suspension for a shorter period.
Ohioans don’t need a valid driver’s license to register a car. The car Dye was driving was titled in his name. Some insurance companies don’t require a valid license, either. And a family member or friend can always hand over the keys to a vehicle.
“You can still put a key in the ignition and turn it,” Corroto said. “That’s the frustrating part; people have to respect the law.”
Last year, troopers pulled over and arrested 23,000 people who were driving with a suspended license.
“It definitely is a problem,” said Lt. Anne Ralston, State Highway Patrol spokeswoman.
If the suspended driver owns the vehicle he or she is driving, it can be seized, either temporarily or permanently, Ralston said.
If someone lends a vehicle to a person despite knowing of a license suspension, that owner can be charged with wrongful entrustment. The vehicle can be seized, and the owner faces a fine under the first-degree misdemeanor.
“I don’t know what more we could do as far as the law-enforcement side is concerned,” Ralston said.
Often, people with suspended licenses weigh the penalties against their immediate needs, Corroto said. They tell themselves, and the judge, that they have to go to work or have to pick up their kids from school.
“And for Mr. Dye, it was, ‘I have to go to the Ohio State game,’ ” Corroto said.