Briarcrest survivor pressures TN to strengthen DUI laws - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Briarcrest survivor pressures TN to strengthen DUI laws

Kara Holden spoke about her experience. (Source: WMC Action News 5) Kara Holden spoke about her experience. (Source: WMC Action News 5)
Maddie Kruse and Rachel Lynch died in the May 2015 crash. (Source: Family) Maddie Kruse and Rachel Lynch died in the May 2015 crash. (Source: Family)
Melandus Penson is charged with vehicular homicide and DUI. (Source: Marshall County Jail) Melandus Penson is charged with vehicular homicide and DUI. (Source: Marshall County Jail)
MARSHALL CO., MS (WMC) -

Tougher punishment and better communication on DUI cases passed a first hurdle in Nashville.

Chief Consumer Investigator Andy Wise and Chief Meteorologist Emeritus Dave Brown went to the state capitol Tuesday to lobby legislators to get tough on DUI.

They were not alone in Nashville.

Kara Holden, one of the survivors of a May 2015 crash caused by a 7-time DUI offender, joined the fight.

"I want to prevent the same tragedy from happening to your daughters," Holden said. "I miss them everyday so I know doing this is the right thing to do."

Holden survived the May 2015 crash, but two of her best friends and Briarcrest Christian School classmates did not survive.

Maddie Kruse and Rachel Lynch were both in the car 32-year-old Melandus Penson of Belden, Mississippi, crashed into. He had already been arrested for six DUIs (convicted of five), but he was out on bond.

Research showed all of those DUIs were considered his first offense, because different jurisdictions failed to share his conviction record with Mississippi Department of Public Safety and the National Crime Information Center,

"These drunk drivers are not considering other people on the road," Holden testified to Tennessee lawmakers. "I am speaking on behalf of those who no longer have a voice."

Holden slammed Mississippi and Tennessee for institutionalized failures in communication which allow drunk drivers with multiple arrests and convictions to remain on the road.

"We must share DUI arrests and convictions through appropriate measures. Only then can we take the first steps to stop multiple DUI offenders from being on the road...How many more is it going to take?!"

Kara stood up in front of the legislative committee in honor of the Kruses, the Lynches and the loss of their daughters Maddie and Rachel.

"I am speaking on behalf of those who no longer have a voice," Holden said.

After her testimony, the legislation passed committee. It's now moving closer to becoming law. The committee also passed a bill that would force first time DUI offenders to have ignition locks on their cars for a year and yank their drivers licenses.

"The judge will know at the hearing what an offender's DUI case history is, arrests and convictions," TN Representative Mark White said.

It would force the 18 Tennessee counties that don't share their DUI data to share it with every judge and prosecutor in the state within five days.

Holden's impassioned testimony impressed Dave Brown, who lost his daughter, granddaughter, and unborn grandson because of a drunk driver.

"I think this focus, just the intensity of this situation, has brought such a focus that legislatures cannot ignore it," Brown said.

Advocates say the bill would require drivers to comply or remain without a license.

"You are not able to get a license back until you complete your 365 days on ignition interlock," Kate Ritchie, MADD Tennessee, said.

All of this comes one week after Mississippi lawmakers passed a virtually identical DUI record-sharing reform bill, including fines on court clerks who fail to share records and longer license suspensions.

"We're also extending a suspension of the license after the fact to prevent them from being back on the street even after they are released," Mississippi Senator David Parker said.

Dave Brown said Mississippi has paved the path for Tennessee.

"The State of Mississippi has come up with some very good legislation and the State of Tennessee is now on its way to it," Brown said.

All of this, on the strength of an 18-year-old's testimony before lawmakers.

"I know that I want to help schools and, like, my school and their family and their friends," Holden said. "Just help in anyway I could."

Copyright 2016 WMC Action News 5 and AP. All rights reserved.

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