Hoping to remember happier times, Cameron Crocker and his sister, Kira, bake a cake each year on their dad's birthday with the help of their mom, Cindy.

But it's an activity Cindy says they shouldn't have to do.

"He should be here making his own memories with his children," she said.

Andrew Crocker, who was 38, Crocker's husband and the father of Cameron, 9, and Kira, 4, is not around to celebrate because he was struck and killed by a drunken driver in September 2005 while jogging near the family's home.

Dawn L. Around Him, the woman who hit Andrew, is serving a 15-year prison sentence. She pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide.

Cindy Crocker said she gets even angrier when she hears of other cases involving people being injured or killed because of drunken drivers than she does thinking about Andrew's death.

"I've been trying to use Andrew's death as a point of education," she said. "When people don't learn from that, it makes me so angry."

One recent case involves Tamara Bradford, who is charged with driving drunk and hitting four children on bikes. All were injured but survived.

Bradford, 39, is charged with felony driving under the influence, driving under revocation and four counts of vehicular battery.

Bradford already has three drunken-driving convictions.

Bradford remains in Pennington County Jail on $500,000 bond.

Glenn Brenner, Pennington County state's attorney, said there are, without a doubt, more DUI convictions now than in past years, but that does not necessarily mean there are more people drinking and driving.

"I suggest it means we're catching more," Brenner said. "Enforcement is greater."

He said with the options of calling a friend for a ride, taking a cab or using other transportation opportunities in Rapid City, he does not understand why people continue to risk it.

"You're not just risking getting arrested for DUI," Brenner said. "You're risking hurting somebody or taking somebody's life."

Brenner said he would like to see stricter penalties for drunken drivers with higher blood alcohol concentrations.

As South Dakota law is now, someone who is barely over the legal limit of 0.08 percent faces the same maximum punishment as someone with an extremely high blood alcohol concentration.

Brenner said having varying penalties based on blood alcohol concentration would be helpful because drivers are much more dangerous at higher levels of intoxication. Brenner said those with higher levels also tend to be chronic users of alcohol and are more likely to be repeat offenders.

Brenner said the mandatory blood test law that went into effect in South Dakota in July 2006 has been a useful tool for prosecutors.

The law requires anyone arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence to submit to a blood test immediately after the arrest.

Brenner said that blood test is great evidence for prosecuting cases involving drunken driving.

"It's difficult to mount a defense against a blood alcohol reading," he said.

For that reason, many more drunken-driving cases end with guilty pleas rather than trials, saving Brenner's office time and taxpayers' dollars.

Brenner said most people who have had one DUI conviction do not get another one.

Out of 2,200 DUI charges Brenner's office prosecuted in 2006, 377 were felonies, meaning a third or subsequent offense.

Brenner said that in the scheme of things, that is not a large amount.

"Most of them got the hint after getting one," he said. "Why? Because the consequences increase."

He said an increase in consequences even for first-offense DUIs would discourage people from drinking and driving at all.

"When you increase the penalties, you make people think twice about their actions," he said.

Through her grief, Cindy Crocker became determined to do her part to prevent other families from going through what hers did.

She is involved with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and speaks at some of their events. She also participates on victim-impact panels, speaking to juveniles who have been in legal trouble.

She said she has been asked to participate on a court-appointed victim-impact panel for adults, and she plans to do that as well.

It is not easy for Crocker to talk about her husband's death, but she does it because she hopes to do some good.

"That's the only reason I go out and speak," she said. "If it saves one family from going through what I've gone through, it's worth it."

What still haunts Crocker is how preventable her husband's death could have been.

"If that person had not been drinking, almost assuredly, there would not have been an accident," Crocker said. "That's when the anger comes in it for me."

South Dakota Highway Patrol Trooper Ryan Mechaley said when troopers respond to fatal accidents, an already difficult situation is made harder when they learn alcohol was involved.

"It's bad any time you go to a crash, but when you find out there was alcohol or drugs involvement, it compounds the emotions for everybody involved," Mechaley said. "Because you find out it was so preventable."

There were 11,282 DUI arrests in South Dakota from July 2006 to July 2007, Mechaley said.

He said at a recent law enforcement conference he attended, he witnessed how an ignition interlock system works.

Most systems now snap a photo of the person blowing into the system to ensure that the device is not tampered with, and that the person does not have someone who has not been drinking breathe into the system for them.

Brenner said although South Dakota does not use ignition interlock devices, he thinks they are coming.

"Because we're making so many changes and advancements in the community, I bet that's something to come," Brenner said.

Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender said there is still some level of acceptance of drunken drivers among the community.

"Our worst road block in the fight against drunk driving is the apparent social acceptance of it," he said. "We have to ask the public to stop taking this lying down."

In the past month, the Rapid City Police Department has enacted a two-officer DUI task force. The department received grant money to dedicate two officers to patrolling for drunken drivers.

Allender said that is positive for the department because it means two officers can focus on stopping drunken drivers without being distracted by taking other calls.

He said it is often a balancing act to patrol for drunken drivers when they constantly must be responding to other calls for service.

On one Wednesday night in October, Rapid City Police arrested 13 people for DUI out of 51 traffic stops.

Allender said there are many misconceptions surrounding drunken driving.

One is that after drinking for several hours, coffee and breakfast sober a person up enough to drive.

He said during the morning commute, there are drunken drivers on the road who have likely slept and eaten but still are intoxicated on their way to work.

"Alcohol is only removed by time," Allender said.

Allender said there is also a misconception that two beers or cocktails put someone over the legally impaired limit.

He said the average blood alcohol concentration of people his department arrests for DUI is 0.16 - exactly twice the legal cutoff, meaning they drank much more than two alcoholic beverages.

He said almost no adult would be put over the legally impaired limit by two alcoholic beverages.

"But it does depend on time, weight and what the person is drinking," he said.

Crocker said she believes in stronger penalties for drunken driving and no second chances.

"My children didn't get a second chance at having their dad," she said.

Because of someone else's decision, Crocker has to remind Kira, now 4, that her father is gone forever.

"It is really difficult to explain to her that dead means he's not coming back," she said.

Crocker said she focuses on keeping the happy memories of her husband alive for her children.

"But I tell them it's OK to miss their dad," she said. "We still cry. And that's OK."

Crocker said she was under the misconception that because she and her family were not driving around midnight or 2 a.m., they were safe from drunken drivers.

But that way of thinking changed for her after Andrew was struck at 5:30 on a weekday morning while jogging before going to work.

"Chances are, no matter what time you're driving, there's a drunk driver out there you're going to pass on your way to or from," Crocker said.

She said she has never hated Around Him and never will. Crocker is working on forgiving the woman responsible for her husband's death.

"I don't hate her now. I never have hated her," Crocker said. "I hate what happened."

She said she knows she can forgive Around Him if she is using time well in prison to deal with her problems and become a better person. Now, Crocker focuses on working to be sure another family does not have to go through what hers did.

"I'll never know if it actually saves someone's life, because there's no way to know, but I have to believe that this is doing some good," she said.

Contact Katie Brown at 394-8318 or katie.brown@rapidcityjournal.com

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