My daughter, Maegan Spindler, and her supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dr. Robert Klumb, were killed by a drunk driver while standing in a parking lot during daylight on July 8, 2013 in Pickstown, South Dakota. The killer, Ronald Ray Fischer, Jr. was acquitted of the most serious charges of Manslaughter, but was convicted of Vehicular Homicide. He was sentenced to two consecutive 15 year sentences on March 23, 2015. In practice he will serve only 30% of this sentence (4.5 years for each death) and the case remains open until March 2016 and he can apply for re-sentencing during that time period.
Recently Fischer filed an appeal of his conviction. The basis for this appeal is the Supreme Court’s Missouri v. McNeely decision of April 2013. The court held that unless “exigent circumstances” exist, law enforcement must get a warrant to draw a blood sample from drunk driving suspects who are unwilling or unable to consent to the blood draw.
This is the first McNeely case to test “exigent circumstances” in South Dakota. It appears that this may be one of the first cases nationally to test “exigent circumstances” involving the deaths of innocents in a higher court.
In the case of Maegan and Rob’s deaths, the local sheriff or state troopers neglected to get a warrant. The South Dakota Attorney General, Marty Jackley, had issued an advisory to all state law enforcement in April 2013 to obtain warrants.
The case was prosecuted by the AG’s office and they will also handle the appeal. We have been grateful for the expertise of the AG’s office in a complex case. I have been told by them that they are confident that “exigent circumstances” existed and the South Dakota Supreme Court will support that. However, the state’s Supreme Court has taken a sympathetic view towards DUI suspects in 2 rulings after McNeely. Whether they would free a killer is unknown—but South Dakota has provided so many disappointments, I would not be surprised.
Had Judge Bruce Anderson found Fischer guilty of Manslaughter, we would not be facing the chance a known killer would be released on a legal technicality regarding the warrantless blood draw.
Attorney General Marty Jackley in March took the unusual step of stating the Vehicular Homicide statute does not provide sufficient penalties, largely as a result of this case. We are hopeful that penalties for these most egregious DUI crimes will be increased.
Our family supports increased penalties for Vehicular Homicide, but we all must acknowledge that this is not a sufficient deterrent. The problem is a resource issue because over 50% of law enforcement agencies in the state have 3 or fewer officers. Places like Charles Mix County simply cannot enforce existing laws.
The imperative of DUI reform is best stated with two simple statistics: nationally over 1/3 of DUI deaths are innocent victims, and if this holds true in South Dakota, there are more deaths of innocent victims from DUI in South Dakota than from murder. Government is the only entity with the tools to reduce this needless suffering.