Families of killed Briarcrest students urge accountability 1 yea - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Families of killed Briarcrest students urge accountability 1 year after crash

Rachel Lynch and Maddie Kruse, both 17 years old. (Source: Victims' families) Rachel Lynch and Maddie Kruse, both 17 years old. (Source: Victims' families)
Melandus Penson in court the day he was convicted and sentenced to 60 years (Source: WMC Action News 5) Melandus Penson in court the day he was convicted and sentenced to 60 years (Source: WMC Action News 5)

On the anniversary of the crash that killed their daughters, the parents of Maddie Kruse and Rachel Lynch blistered the state of Mississippi for its failure to reform its drunk-driving reporting system.

Tedd & Dawn Kruse and Matt & Jennifer Lynch issued the following statement Tuesday in remembrance of the May 31, 2015, crash that killed their daughters on Highway 78 in Marshall County, Mississippi, while on their way to a beach vacation. Melandus Penson crashed his car into their van. The 33-year-old 7-time drunk-driving offender blew a 0.14 after the crash-- almost twice the legal blood alcohol content limit. Earlier this month, Penson pleaded guilty to DUI death, DUI negligent injury, and aggravated assault. A judge sentenced him to 120 years in prison, but suspended half of that sentence--meaning Penson will serve 60 years in prison.

The families' statement, in total: 

As you know, since the tragic events that occurred on May 31st , 2015, our families have been forever altered.

Thankfully we have been surrounded by a tight knit group of people that have helped us make this healing process tolerable.  We would like to thank our families, our friends and our churches for helping us through this excruciatingly painful process.  We also want to especially thank our Briarcrest family for all of their support.

We acknowledge that there will never be true justice for the girls.  We also want everyone to know that we will strive to live our lives in their memory. 

Although the sentence imposed by the court sounds good, it will never be good enough for us.  We pray that the state of Mississippi Department of Corrections does not allow this individual the opportunity to earn any time off from this sentence.  Please make him serve the 60 years as ordered by the judge.

The facts are that if the State of Mississippi had enforced their own laws, this tragedy never would have happened.  We would like to use this opportunity to speak out regarding the much needed change of the Drunk Driving Laws of Mississippi and the rest of the country.  We truly feel that the State of Mississippi and their lack of enforcement of the drunk-driving laws is equally responsible for the death of our girls.  The lack of simple communication and enforcement of the law allowed this person to be released from the legal system after the sixth offense.  Everything about that is wrong. 

The fact that the media can gather so much detailed information about the habitual criminal nature of this person and his previous crimes that caused it is one thing.  For the state of Mississippi to say that they cannot communicate is another.  For the state of Mississippi to not enact an immediate reformation to their laws shows the ignorance of the state and its leadership.  The state is single-handedly putting the lives of other innocent people and law enforcement officers at risk every day that they do not make a change.

We will actively fight for reformation of the laws from this day forward.  The State of Mississippi has the responsibility to step up and set an example so no other families ever have to live through the horrible process of losing a loved one to a drunk driver.

There needs to be a central reporting data base for any and all repeat offenders of drunk-driving.  More people are killed by drunk-driving than any other crimes and there is no way for law enforcement to look up their history.  That is wrong.

As parents we have no recourse against the state and their lack of enforcement of their laws. 

There is no acceptable excuse for the state of Mississippi exposing our children and every person on the roads of Mississippi to this high risk behavior.  They must change their laws and we will fight for that change.

Once again we thank our family, friends and Briarcrest family for your support and we will go on. 


The Lynch’s and Kruse’s

Penson was out on bond for his sixth DUI when he crashed into and killed the girls. WMC Action News 5 Investigator Andy Wise discovered Penson carried five DUI convictions at the time of the crash. Each was for first-offense DUI.

That's because three Mississippi county court jurisdictions and one municipal court jurisdiction failed to report their DUI records on Penson to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the national crime database inside every squad car in America. When police officers checked the NCIC at the point of arrest, Penson's history was missing. Officers had no choice but to continually charge Penson with first-offense DUI, enabling lighter penalties and looser bond conditions that allowed Penson back on the roads again and again.

Despite enacting laws to require ignition interlock devices on first-time offenders, enhance penalties on subsequent offenses and reduce second-offense plea bargains, Mississippi lawmakers failed this year to codify an adequate reporting system for getting all DUI arrest and conviction records to the NCIC. They managed only to implement a $100 civil penalty on court clerks who fail to forward DUI conviction records to the NCIC within five days.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) and U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) introduced the DUI Reporting Act of 2016, which would withhold federal funding for crime-fighting equipment, measures and budgets from states that fail to require reporting of all DUI arrest and conviction records to NCIC. Noticeably missing from sponsorship of the bill:  U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly (R-Mississippi), whose district includes the crash site and the municipalities that failed to share Penson's drunk-driving records.

Tuesday, Kelly -- a former prosecutor who has litigated drunk-driving cases -- confirmed to WMC Action News 5 that he planned to support the legislation as long as it does not punish the entire state of Mississippi for the mistakes of a few court clerks. "I just want to make sure the legislation punishes people that we intend to punish (for not forwarding DUI records to the NCIC)," Kelly said. "As a former prosecutor, if a clerk in my district didn't do their job, and I got funds withheld that kept me from doing my job in putting people in jail, that would be something of great concern to me."

"I can understand some of his concerns," said Kristen Acuff, co-chair of Briarcrest Christian School's DUI Report/Enforce/Protect. "But I still think that at some point, it's still the responsibility of the entire state to police their own."

Cohen said the DUI Reporting Act of 2016 could get a congressional hearing as early as July. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has endorsed the bill. Citizens can use this link to urge their members of Congress to support it.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers in Nashville passed bills that would require fingerprints taken during a DUI arrest to be sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations within five business days. If the arrest ends in conviction, the conviction record must be sent to the TBI within seven business days to be entered into the NCIC. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is scheduled to sign those bills into law June 9.

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