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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Drunken driver gets up to 45 years for killing cyclist

All too often, we hear about the injustice the legal system gives bicyclists who are killed or seriously injured when they are struck by a motor vehicle.

In some ways, the sentencing of Kevin Babcock, 44, to 20 to 45 years in prison for killing a 19-year-old bicyclist in Grand Haven, Mich., is a step in the right direction.

And yet, the case reveals many of the problems of the system. The conviction is the fifth drunken driving conviction for Babcock. According to the Grand Rapids Press, Babcock has not had a valid Michigan driver's license since 1993, but yet he had managed to get behind the wheel of a vehicle.

This time, his actions killed cyclist Curtis Jacobs and seriously injured a friend, Christian Van Wyngarden.

According to the newspaper, Babcock was driving on U.S. 31 about 8:30 a.m. June 27 when he went through a stoplight at Quincy Street and hit Jacobs and Van Wyngarden. Babcock admitted to having as many as 20 drinks and court records showed a 0.18 blood-alcohol level, more than twice the legal limit.

Babcock pleaded no contest to charges, including second-degree murder, driving while intoxicated causing death and other felonies. Judge Calvin Bosman issued the sentence and asked Babcock how he would keep drunken-driving offenders off the road. His response?

"I don't have an answer for you sir. I wish I did," the Grand Rapids man was quoted as saying. "I thought I had control over my drinking."

I've been to Grand Haven several times over the years, three times because of the West Shoreline Tour and a few other times while traveling to other parts of the Lake Michigan shoreline, a favorite vacation destination..

Unfortunately, one of those visits included a trip to a Grand Haven emergency room, While I never had an encounter with a drunken driver, a bad driver driving a Cadillac with Florida license plates -- unfortunately, no one was ever able to get license plates -- buzzed by me and a friend extremely closely. That startled her, causing her to fall and causing me to run over her with my bike.

But I know my next trip to Grand Haven will be a bit safer, knowing Babcock won't be on the road for a while.

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