Drunk driving-related bill very personal for Dubuque family - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Drunk driving-related bill very personal for Dubuque family

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Nikki Chapman (middle) was killed by a drunk driver in 2004, two weeks after her college graduation Nikki Chapman (middle) was killed by a drunk driver in 2004, two weeks after her college graduation

The Iowa Senate will debate a proposed bill Monday, which would expand the group of convicted drunk drivers required to use an ignition interlock on their car. That's a device that measures the driver's blood alcohol level and prevents the car from starting if the reading is too high.

Current Iowa law requires ignition interlocks for any repeat OWI offender and for first-time OWI offenders with a blood alcohol level of .1 or higher. The proposed legislation would, among other provisions, require ignition interlocks for any driver convicted of driving with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit of .08.

The bill is very personal for the Chapman family of Dubuque.

It was a quarter mile west of the Peosta exit on US Highway 20 where a drunk driver killed 25-year-old Nikki Chapman nearly a decade ago.

"We shouldn't have to bury our children, much less to a totally preventable death caused by a drunk driver," Chapman's mother Linda Chapman said.

If this proposed legislation had been law 10 years ago, Chapman said, her daughter might still be alive today.

"She was such an enjoyable person," Chapman said. "She was a great friend. She was a wonderful daughter

June 5, 2004 is a date Chapman will never forget. The family was coming home from a wedding that Saturday night. Nikki Chapman was riding with her friend.

At the same time, 23-year-old Chris Schwendinger was driving onto US Highway 20 westbound from Peosta. He was drunk.

Less than a mile outside of Peosta, Schwendinger's vehicle crossed the median into eastbound, oncoming traffic, "became airborne in his three-quarter-ton pickup truck and landed directly on top of her SUV, crushing both of them to death," Linda Chapman recounted.

That was on Saturday night. Chapman said officials with the Dubuque County Sheriff's Office knocked on her door shortly before 4 a.m. Sunday.

"I thought we'd have to go to the emergency room. I asked what hospital she was at," Chapman said. "That's when they said, 'We're sorry, she didn't make it.'"

Nikki Chapman had graduated from the University of Dubuque just two weeks prior.

"It's very frustrating that she was taken because she was going to be a contributing member of society," her sister Jodi Chapman said. "She had just graduated. She was a counselor at Hillcrest, she was working to get families back together. She was working in emergency dispatch, she was helping people."

Court records show this was not Schwendinger's first offense. His most recent OWI offense had been just one week prior to killing Chapman and her friend.

"Without an ignition interlock or anything, you can just hop in your car, go to the bar," Jodi Chapman said. "Same habits."

That's why Chapman's family wants to see ignition interlocks required for more OWI offenders.

"If I can spare another family the sorrow and grief that we've experienced by losing Nikki, I will do anything in my power to do that, because it's terrible," Linda Chapman said. "There's not a day goes by that I don't think about her."

If the bill becomes law, Iowa will join 21 states that already require ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers.

There's a version of the bill in both the Iowa Senate and the House.

Lobbyists from two groups oppose the Senate bill: the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the Iowa Association For Justice, according to the Iowa Legislature's online bill-tracking tool.

Des Moines attorney Matthew Lindholm is with the latter group. He called the Senate bill "cumbersome," saying certain provisions in it are punitive.

Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. He said senators are working to make the proposed legislation more bi-partisan-friendly before Monday's floor debate.

He said changes include opting not to require an ignition interlock for convicted drunk drivers who don't want to reinstate their driving privileges. The example both Bowman and Lindholm gave was a college student who gets convicted of an OWI while home on spring break but then goes back to college, where he doesn't need a car.

Under current law, Bowman said, people convicted of drunk driving have to wait a period of at least 30 days to apply for a conditional temporary restricted license. He said while that law is meant to keep Iowa roads and drivers safe, it may also be causing convicted drunken drivers to be break additional laws, if they choose to ignore that timeline and drive without a license.

The proposed legislation would allow drunk drivers to apply for their conditional temporary restricted license immediately upon conviction, although they would have to use an ignition interlock.

Simply put, it would get an ignition interlock on convicted drunken drivers' vehicles sooner rather than later.

Current law also bans those conditional drivers from driving anywhere but to and from work and other court-approved locations. The proposed legislation would allow drivers to travel anywhere, such as to the grocery store or to drop off their kids at school -- again, as long as the required ignition interlock is in place.

As for tying the ignition interlock requirement to a certain blood alcohol level for first-time offenders, Bowman said, that provision is still in flux, too.

The Senate takes up the bill for debate Monday.

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