DUI offenders scrutinized as victims' kin mourn

Sometimes when her cell phone rings, Shannon Hart still briefly wishes she will hear the voice of her daughter, Noara Ilani Dines, on the line. Mother and daughter used to talk at least once a day on the phone.

Now, the phone rarely rings.

"There is a constant reminder of who is not in my life," Hart said.

Dines, 20, was a student at Chaffey College in Southern California when she was killed in a collision with a drunken driver on Interstate 5 in Merced County in January 2003.

Terri Baker left her job as an assistant bank manager after her 20-year-old son, Nick Baker, died in September 2002 in a collision in Roseville with a drunken driver. Too many memories of him there, she said. Nick Baker visited her often in the eight years she worked at her old job.

"I was devastated," Baker said. "It destroyed me."

To prevent accidents such as the ones that devastated the lives of these women, Sacramento County Probation Officers Bill Hepworth and Jim Hughes monitor drivers caught repeatedly driving under the influence. It's work that, during the holiday season, gets busier and draws more attention.

Of 600 DUI offenders on formal probation in Sacramento County, authorities said they consider 80 the "worst of the worst," who require intense supervision to keep them off the roads.

Hepworth and Hughes test these offenders at least once a week. The probation department has a device that is able to detect alcohol for up to 80 hours after the offenders have been drinking, Hepworth said. The officers also spring surprise visits at offenders' homes, where they conduct additional tests to ensure they are complying with court orders against drinking alcohol, using drugs or driving.

Offenders are required to attend counseling, and officers regularly check to verify attendance. Under the 4-year-old program, about 100 arrests a year are made, officials said.

Authorities say the program's Draconian supervision and enforcement rules keep DUI offenders accountable.

"When someone believes that they are being watched closely, they are less inclined to break those terms of condition," Hepworth said.

The offender list isn't permanent. Some are removed when they end up serving prison or jail time, Hepworth said.

On a recent visit to a home in Rancho Cordova, Hepworth said he noticed a DUI probationer with car keys in his bedroom. Hepworth returned the next day and caught him backing out of his driveway in a truck.

Ronald Prasad was arrested for violating his probation, according to online jail records.

Offenders are often arrested repeatedly for violating probation, but seldom get caught with a fresh DUI offense, Hepworth said.

On rare occasions, some of them learn their actions can have tragic consequences.

About a year ago, Hepworth said, he received a phone call from a former probationer who thanked Hepworth for arresting him and recommending he undergo residential treatment for alcoholism. The man told Hepworth he realized he is not the kind of person who should ever have a driver's license.

Getting behind the wheel under any impaired condition is not just a bad choice, Hart said. "It's criminal negligence," she said.