DUI sentencing laws allow man who killed while driving drunk to stay behind wheel

Sunday, March 6, 2011 at 10:05pm
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Keri Denise Scheib rarely rolled into the driveway late for her 9 p.m. curfew. She knew from past experience that it meant a grounding. On this night, a school night, she’d gone over to eat pizza at the home of Blake Tidwell, her McGavock High School sweetheart.

He’d joked before that Keri was probably only with him because he could drive her anywhere she wanted. But Pamela Tidwell, Blake’s mother, served as chauffeur that night — Blake had broken his right ankle on the Scheibs’ trampoline the night before.

At about 9:15 that night, Larry and Carolyn Scheib began to worry about their oldest daughter. Shortly afterward, Carolyn’s brother called. He’d seen a terrible wreck at the intersection of Lakeland Drive and Donelson Pike, and he wanted to make sure everyone in the family was home safe. Yeah, Carolyn said, everyone but Keri — and she should be on her way. Her brother said she might want to go check the scene. 

Carolyn asked her husband to go. At the scene, just two blocks from the Scheibs’ home, an officer directed Larry Scheib to Metro General Hospital. There, he was first asked to identify some of Keri’s jewelry. He felt like he was wading slowly toward reality. Scheib was escorted into what he called the “holding cell,” where a hospital employee pulled back a sheet for him to identify his 15-year-old daughter.

Keri, Blake and Pamela Tidwell all died around 8:30 that evening, Feb. 11, 1993, in the car wreck that would later send 18-year-old Danny Lee Ross Jr. to prison for nearly 12 years on three counts of vehicular homicide. He was driving drunk. A year later almost to the day — Feb. 10, 1994 — a jury found Ross guilty on those charges. Eight days before the wreck, however, on Feb. 3, 1993, he’d already picked up his first DUI charge. 

Since his release from prison in May of 2006, Ross has racked up three more DUI convictions and guilty pleas. As sentencing guidelines go, DUI convictions separated by 10 years aren’t considered consecutive charges for the purpose of determining someone’s sentence. 

It’s something that haunts Larry Scheib as he continues to watch the man who killed the Tidwells and his daughter commit the same offenses that led their deaths. 

 

Though Ross was tried on three counts of second-degree murder for the 1993 wreck, the jury acquitted him of those charges, opting instead for the vehicular homicide convictions involving alcohol. He received the maximum six-year sentences for each conviction to be served consecutively, meaning the most he would have served was 18 years.

According to Department of Correction records, Ross began his prison sentence in March 1994 after a year in jail and was paroled in May 2002. By March 2004, a parole violation sent him back to prison until May 2006. He served roughly 12 years before taking to the streets again. 

In April 2007, while drunk, Ross slammed his 1998 Toyota into a cement wall on a Briley Parkway exit ramp at Brick Church Pike. That would count as his first DUI since the deadly 1993 wreck. Police charged Ross with another DUI in April 2008, when his roommate reported that he’d stolen her car and was driving it drunk.

A year later, in June 2009, Ross notched a public intoxication charge after banging on the counter and yelling at employees in the Sonic restaurant that had been built on the corner of Lakeland Drive and Donelson Pike, where Keri Scheib and the Tidwells died. 

Last Friday, as Larry Scheib had done throughout numerous hearings of Ross’ 1994 trial — during the numb months of confusion that followed the three deaths — he sat in the courtroom as Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Mark Fishburn sentenced Ross on his latest DUI charge, which he picked up in October of last year. Ross accrued these most recent charges of DUI, driving on a revoked license, open container and implied consent when he drove his truck into the side of a mailbox, where it got stuck. 

Fishburn sentenced Ross to 11 months and 29 days — to be served consecutively — for each of three charges, as well as 30 days for the open container charge. That puts Ross in jail again for almost three years. 

Ross’ attorney, Chase Smith, had asked for slightly more than the minimum sentence so that Ross could enter rehabilitation. But the judge, considering Ross’ history, said that he didn’t seem to have learned anything from his past — “he just keeps pulling the pin on the hand grenade to see if it’ll blow again,” Fishburn said from the bench. 

“He just doesn’t get it,” the judge said. “There’s nothing before the court to support that he’s going to get it.” 

Larry Scheib struck a similar tone. 

“He’s going to eventually get out again,” Scheib said after the sentencing. “The light bulb didn’t go off. I think he’s just mad at somebody.”

Though technically on his fifth DUI arrest, and having killed three people on his second, Ross benefited from his time in prison because sentencing guidelines prohibited the judge from considering his two previous DUI-related convictions during this latest sentencing go-round. 

There are four levels of DUIs, said Davidson County Assistant District Attorney Kyle Anderson. First, second and third DUI offenses are all misdemeanors with maximum jail time of 11 months and 29 days. The minimum jail time ranges from 48 hours for first offense to 120 days for third. 

“If there’s ever a 10-year break between DUI convictions,” Anderson said, “that kind of cuts off how far you can look back to make it a second, third or fourth.” 

So Ross’ 2007 DUI conviction, even though it’s his third DUI charge on the books, counts as his first to be considered as “consecutive” along with the 2008 and 2010 DUIs. 

Previous DUI convictions, however, remain on a criminal record, and Anderson did bring up the three vehicular homicide convictions to push for the toughest sentence on a DUI third offense. 

At most, Ross faced a sentence of a little more than three years, which is unfortunate to Laura Dial, executive director of the Tennessee chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. 

“It’s been really tough working with a family and explaining to them why this person can keep — we can’t explain to them why this person can keep doing what they’re doing and still be free,” Dial said, referring to Ross. “We should definitely be able to count all of the priors on someone like this.”

Larry Scheib, after telling groups of DUI offenders his daughter’s story for almost 17 years, decided three months ago that he was finished with that circuit. 

He is considering lobbying the state legislature for a change in the 10-year “lookback” rule in DUI sentencing. While state lawmakers have made tweaks to the sentencing laws in the past, they’ve yet to take on that aspect. 

And Scheib still holds out hope for Ross.

“I just wish that at some point in time he would wake up,” he said. “That’s what I’m hoping for. I’m praying for that.”  

 

3 Comments on this post:

By: dargent7 on 3/7/11 at 1:18

5 DUI's is IN-excusable.
But this guy's life has to be ruined. Lawyer fees, everyone knows he's a serial drunen driver.

By: Magnum on 3/7/11 at 2:26

TN has a flawed DUI system. One DUI and you are marked for the entirety of you life. You will always have to put it on job applications, it will always be on your record, etc. However, five DUI's and a vehicular homicide and you get three years??? The laws that allow this to happen are worthless as are the lawmakers who put them in place. Too many lawmakers sitting around coming up with ideas such as DUI license plates rather than looking at the true flaws within the current law.

By: dargent7 on 3/8/11 at 5:26

Killing 3 people is way beyond "DUI sentencing laws". He should of got "involuntary manslaughter" and 15-20 years.