Let’s take action on Lacey’s Law Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler, editor   
Thursday, May. 21, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

Updated 05/27/09

A mother was returning from an ice-skating competition with her 14-year-old daughter in their car.  As a mother of a former figure skating (who’s now a coach), I can imagine the two of them chatting about the competition: how well the skaters did, whether they should have placed better, what they could improve on the next time.

Editorial logo

However, for this skater there would not be a next time. Their car was struck head-on by a car traveling the wrong way in their lane. The driver had been drinking.

The daughter was transported to a hospital, where she later died. Her mother survived.

Every parent’s nightmare

This tragic accident happened on January 10, 2009, on Highway 45 in Wisconsin while Lacey Meinel of Schofield and her mother Jodene Meinel returned from a skating competition in Fond du Lac.

Homicide charges were filed against Daniel Schaefer, 23, of Fond du Lac. He had a blood alcohol content of 0.2 percent after the accident. That alcohol level is more than twice the legal limit for drivers.

This accident is every parent’s nightmare. But it continues to happen because Wisconsin’s drunk driving laws are not tough enough.

Young people take action

It might take young people to get those laws changed. Schoolmates of Lacey Meinel are urging state legislators to strengthen state penalties for those operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

Students at D.C. Everest Junior High School in Wausau started an online petition, which can be  found at 

“When Lacey died, you could tell everyone wanted to do something to make this not happen again,” said Zach Pagel, a 14-year-old Everest freshmen. Pagel is president of the school’s National Junior Honor Society, which is co-sponsoring the petition with the student council.

The petition asks the state Legislature to:

• Impose a $1,000 fine, a 30-day jail sentence, and revoke an OWI (Operating a Motor Vehicle While Intoxicated) offender’s license for two years after the first offense.

• Impose a six-month felony jail sentence and permanently revoke the OWI offender’s license after the second offense.

• Impose a 25-year prison sentence with no possibility of parole for 10 years if an innocent person is killed or severely injured in an accident stemming from drunk driving.

• Impose severe penalties (including the loss of liquor license) for bar owners, bartenders, or bar security that knowingly allow a drunken patron (.08 BAC) to leave the establishment with car keys.

Steve Meinel, Lacey’s father, said that he appreciated what the students are doing. “Time will tell if politicians take this as seriously as the students do,” said Meinel.

Support for Lacey’s Law

State Senate Democrats announced plans to make drunken driving a felony on the third or fourth offense, mandate that ignition interlocks be installed on cars for second and third-time offenders, and add jail time on the first offense, said Senator Russ Decker (D-Weston). Decker said there would be opportunities for debate on Lacey’s Law, as the legislation is being called, at committee hearings.

However, the measure appears to be stalled. The student petition for Lacey’s Law has gotten over 3,000 signatures. According to the Figure Skating Club of Madison, which has been promoting support for the law, an appointment with Governor Jim Doyle and the D.C. Everest students to present the petition signatures was canceled with a promise of rescheduling at a later date.

Reducing drunk driving

Besides tougher penalties, people can make sure their friends and family members do not drive drunk. This might mean taking away someone’s keys, giving someone a ride, and/or deciding on a designated sober driver.

Keeping drunk drivers off our streets — and penalizing those who drive after drinking too much — are matters of respect for life. Let’s convince our state legislators and governor to pass Lacey’s Law so that other young people and their parents do not suffer the tragic consequences.

Update 05/27/09: Zach Pagel e-mailed to say that Governor Doyle and Senator Decker, along with Representatives Petrowski and Seidel, did, in fact, meet with the students about the petition a couple of weeks ago.