Dustin’s Law remaining on hold
by BRIAN GRAVES Banner Staff Write
Feb 10, 2014 | 4765 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DustinsLaw
Dustin Ledford
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It is a story that is, sadly, all too common.

Too many drinks, an unwise decision and death.

The combination of those three toxic ingredients left two small children without a mother nearby, and it left a handsome, vibrant young man to be mourned before his future ever began.

On a darkened night in 2010, Tiffany Isaza had left her home, leaving her children unattended, driving on APD 40.

Her system contained alcohol and methamphetamine, and her unwise decision resulted in traveling the wrong way on the bypass.

Dustin Ledford was leaving a local store where he was picking up bacon and eggs.

Within eight minutes, he was traveling east on the same road as Isaza when fate brought the two together in the most horrific of ways.

Isaza was going the wrong way.

Isaza’s vehicle crashed head-on into Ledford’s during the darkened hours of that July 10, 2010.

Isaza was severely wounded. Ledford was not to be as fortunate.

The 24-year-old young man died of his injuries a short time later.

Isaza was found guilty of vehicular homicide — her blood alcohol level being recorded at twice the legal limit — and child endangerment. She was sentenced to a decade behind bars.

She had served only two years of that punishment before she went before a parole board.

Parole was denied, but will be revisited this year.

Dustin’s parents do not see justice in that.

What they have been denied is their son, and they do not feel the person found responsible for his death will be denied her freedom long enough to pay for what she has done.

Kim and Danny Ledford, Dustin’s parents, began a campaign to argue for stiffer penalties for suspected drunk drivers.

Eventually, “Dustin’s Law” was born.

Motivated by the events of that July night almost four years ago, “Dustin’s Law” was introduced just over one year ago in the Tennessee State Legislature by state Sen. Todd Gardenhire and state Rep. Eric Watson.

Existing law states a person commits a Class A felony offense of aggravated vehicular homicide if the person commits vehicular homicide and the person: (1) Has two or more prior convictions for DUI, vehicular assault or any combination of such offenses; (2) has one or more prior convictions of vehicular homicide; or (3) had a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.20 percent at the time of the offense and has one prior conviction for DUI or vehicular assault.

“Dustin’s Law” would revise the offense described above in (3) to instead specify that a person would commit aggravated vehicular homicide if the person commits vehicular homicide and, at the time of the offense, the person had: (1) A blood-alcohol level of at least 0.20 percent or (2) A blood-alcohol level of at least 0.08 percent and any blood concentration of methamphetamine.

There were plenty of outpourings of support for the Ledfords and their efforts to pass the law.

But, as it always is with the uncertainty of state budgetary processes, it became all about the money.

The executive director of the Tennessee General Assembly’s Fiscal Review Committee produced a summary that was hopeful.

“The number of prosecutions for aggravated vehicular homicide will be offset by a reduction in prosecutions for vehicular homicide,” wrote Lucian D. Geise of the committee.

“It is assumed that the convictions for aggravated vehicular homicide will come from those offenses currently being prosecuted as vehicular homicide that would constitute aggravated vehicular homicide, as defined in the bill. Any impact on the caseloads of the District Attorneys General Conference, the District Public Defenders Conference or the courts can be accommodated within existing resources without an increased appropriation or reduced reversion.”

That statement suggested additional prosecution and/or public defender expenses would require little if nothing more than was already provided.

There was a number that proved more formidable than .21, the blood alcohol content of the convicted driver, or 24, the age of the young man killed, or zero, the number of children Kim and Danny Ledford were left with.

The number that placed “Dustin’s Law” to the side was $445,794 — the yearly estimated cost of incarcerating those convicted under the new definitions.

So that is where “Dustin’s Law” remains a year after it was introduced and almost four years after the victim for whom it is named.

Kim Ledford says the fight has not ended.

“I refuse to believe Dustin died in vain,” she said. “I have to believe there was a purpose for his sacrifice.”

She acknowledges the law cannot work as a preventive measure.

“But, maybe someone will know they will have to be responsible if they decided to make a decision that results in someone’s death,” Ledford said.

“People don’t think a car can be a weapon, but it can if someone is irresponsible enough to drive while under the influence,” she said.

As for the estimated yearly cost, Ledford says if the state “can afford to pay to have the interstates swept, they can afford this.”

The two sponsors of the bill are set to join Ledford within the next few week at a supporting event designed to renew the attention of state legislators.

Neither of them sit on their respective finance committees, but are saying they will help all they can.

“Sen. Gardenhire and I sponsored this bill because we believed then as we do now wreckless behavior that results in the tragic death of innocent people should carry severe punishment,” Watson said.

Ledford met with Gov. Bill Haslam last year where she said he relayed stories of members of his family that had faced similar tragedies.

Watson, who was at that meeting, said he understood the governor would be supportive of the bill “if it was possible within the budget.”

The Banner contacted the governor’s office for a comment.

A spokesperson replied saying because the bill has yet to be flagged for consideration during this session, it has not yet reached the governor’s desk for review under the current proposed budget levels.

Ledford said plans are to have vans and buses available to take those interested to Nashville when the event comes to fruition sometime later this month.

Ledford does take comfort in one story she has heard since Dustin’s death.

“I had a man come to me and told me he was traveling behind Dustin that night,” Ledford said. “He said he had two children and if Dustin hadn’t been in front of him ...”

Her voice trails off knowing what he meant.

“He told me, ‘Dustin is my hero.’ I think Dustin would be very happy to have been involved in saving someone’s life,” Ledford said.

“He was such a good boy, and we loved him. Being able to have him was a miracle in itself. And, if we had been told from the beginning we would only have him for those 24 years, we would have done it,” she said.

“There was so much joy in those 24 years that we cannot imagine our lives having been without. That makes it even more important Dustin’s legacy is remembered and means something to others. He had a big heart, and he cared.”