Deana’s Law finally on the books with governor’s signature – The Delaware County Daily Times

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MEDIA — Lawmakers and Delaware County’s top law enforcement official lauded the official passage and adoption this week of “Deana’s Law” aimed at cracking down on “the worst of the worst” repeat drunk driving offenders with enhanced penalties.
“Today marks the end of an effort that began more than three years ago, after the senseless death of Deana DeRosa Eckman,” state Rep. Chris Quinn, R-168 of Middletown, said at a press conference outside the County Courthouse. “Her memory is now permanently enshrined in state law. Pennsylvanians will be better protected from the worst of the worst repeat DUI offenders as a result of these laws.”
Deana’s Law was passed with bipartisan support in the state House in November by a vote of 168-32 vote and last week sailed through the state Senate by a vote of 46-4 before gaining the signature of Gov. Tom Wolf Monday to make it Act 59 of 2022.
The law, which takes effect in 120 days, will make a third DUI conviction a felony of the third degree and a felony of the second degree if the driver has three or more prior offenses. It also imposes consecutive sentences for a third or subsequent offense and provides for a sentencing enhancement, which District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said is still being crafted by the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission.
Quinn was the prime sponsor for House Bill 773, named for Eckman, 45, who was killed by David Strowhouer in a drunk-driving crash as she and her husband, Chris, were returning home from a family gathering on Feb. 16, 2019.
Strowhouer, 32, of the 2400 block of Woodside Lane in Newtown Square section of Willistown Township, was heading southbound on Route 452 in Upper Chichester, driving a Ram 2500 pickup and tailgating a white minivan driven by Larry Weathers. At the same time, Chris and Deana Eckman were heading northbound on Route 452 in a 2019 Subaru WRX, approaching a railroad bridge over the crest of a hill.
As the minivan reached the bridge heading southbound, Strowhouer applied 100% pressure to the accelerator pedal, getting up to speeds of 78 miles per hour, and crossed the double-yellow lines to enter oncoming traffic as he attempted to pass. The Ram was traveling at 69 miles per hour when it collided head-on with the Subaru. Deana Eckman died of blunt force trauma at the scene, and her husband suffered a broken pelvis.
Strowhouer’s blood-alcohol level was 0.199 and he had traces of cocaine, diazepam and marijuana in his system at the time. He had five prior DUIs on his record since 2010 and was on probation for a previous offense at the time of the crash.
Strowhouer pleaded guilty to his third and fourth DUIs at the same time in Chester County on Oct. 2, 2017, and was given a total sentence of 18 to 36 months in state prison. Later that same month, he pleaded to a fifth DUI before Judge Mary Alice Brennan in Delaware County for DUI: controlled substance — combination alcohol/drug as a third offense. The sentence in the Delaware County case was run concurrent to the Chester County sentence.
“He was out on the street only because he was allowed to serve his sentence for his fourth DUI concurrently,” said Quinn. “Please understand, had the courts imposed consecutive sentences, he would still have been in prison the night she was killed. That painful fact magnifies this tragedy and the need for this law.”
Strowhouer was sentenced in November 2019 to 25½ to 50 years after pleading guilty to murder in the third degree, two counts of aggravated assault, accidents involving death or injury, driving under the influence and driving with a suspended license. He appealed and the state Superior Court upheld the conviction but remanded the case for resentencing. Strowhouer was resentenced last November to 24 to 51 years in prison.
Deana’s parents, Rich and Roseann DeRosa, thanked all of the legislators, supporters and staff members who worked on the bill, as well as Wolf for signing it into law.
“There are no words strong enough to describe the pain about (losing) your child,” said Roseann DeRosa. “It’s an out-of-order process. Deana’s death left a wound in our lives that will never fully heal.”
Roseann has been critical of the justice system in the past and reiterated that it failed to protect her daughter by allowing Strowhouer back onto the streets following his 5th DUI. But she said her daughter’s name will carry on to provide justice that she did not receive.
“This bill was passed by a bipartisan, overwhelming majority because people who met Rich and Roseann know that they’re the real deal,” said Stollsteimer. “These are people who would otherwise not be going to Harrisburg, except that they actually wanted to save other people from living the same tragedy that they do every day.”
Quinn also thanked the DeRosas for coming out to Harrisburg to talk to people who needed convincing at the drop of a hat, and Stollsteimer noted state Sen. John Kane, D-9 of Birmingham, was also at the event Friday. Kane gave an impassioned speech in support of the law on the Senate floor ahead of the bill’s passage.
This is the second version of a bill first proposed last session by former state Sen. Tom Killion of Middletown. The original version would have required anyone convicted on a third DUI to serve a sentence consecutive to any other sentence imposed by the court, similar to Quinn’s bill, but also would have increased sentencing guidelines for fourth and fifth offenses to five to 10 years and 10 to 20 years, respectively.
That bill was defeated in the House in late 2020 after it received pushback from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Firearm Owners Against Crime and AAA for various provisions.
State Sen. Bob Mensch, R-24 of Marlborough Township, introduced two companion bills – first with Killion and then with Quinn — that initially included a provision for “continuous alcohol monitoring” devices, also known as CAM (or “SCRAM” for Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor). These devices are affixed to offenders in the same manner as house arrest devices, but sample and test the wearer’s perspiration for the presence of alcohol to alert authorities before an offender gets behind the wheel. Killion’s bill had included similar language.
The CAM provision was removed from the Senate bill before passage, but Quinn said state Rep. Todd Stevens, R-151 of Montgomery County, has that piece in a separate bill and he hopes to get it passed by year’s end.
State Rep. Craig Williams, R-160 of Concord, said he is a friend of Weathers, the minivan driver. He said Weathers would carry the memory of holding Eckman’s hand in her car as she died with him for the rest of his life.
Williams was not at Friday’s event but passed along congratulations to Killion, Quinn and Kane for working in a bipartisan manner to get the bill passed.
“As a former prosecutor, I was grateful for the opportunity to work with colleagues in the House and Senate to memorialize Deana Eckman with a law that will save lives,” Williams said in a statement. “Serial criminal offenses, like the multiple DUIs that led to Deana’s death, show a disregard for the law that threatens our communities. Consecutive sentencing is a stiff punishment that offers additional teeth for our prosecutors to use against habitual offenders.”
Killion, reached by phone later in the afternoon, said he believes the CAM part of the bill is important and hopes to see its passage too. He likewise thanked all of the legislators and staff members who kept the bill going, particularly Quinn and Kane.
“It’s great, it gives a little closure to the family,” said Killion. “They worked so hard and had so many disappointments along the way. Luckily Chris Quinn picked it up, and Krista Hair, the legislative director for the (Senate) Majority Leader (Jake Corman, R-34 of Bellefonte), and John Kane helped with the Democratic Caucus. It was a team effort.”
Stollsteimer noted the District Attorneys Association backed the bill after meeting the DeRosas, largely because there is no reason in this technological age for anyone to be drunk driving.
“We live in a world now with Uber and Lyft and all these ride-sharing services that there really is no excuse for anyone ever to be driving impaired on our roads,” he said. “But they do and it’s becoming increasingly apparent that people who have multiple violations of DUI are the problem.”
Stollsteimer noted that Mothers Against Drunk Driving has estimated that 40 percent of DUI fatalities are caused by people with multiple DUI convictions and the National Highway Administration warns that there is a 16-year high in DUI fatalities nationwide.
“This is a problem that is not going to go away,” he said. “This state legislation is helpful, but we all have to get together and tell people in our families and our circle of friends that literally you cannot get on our roads (while DUI). Here in Delaware County, we are going to make sure that we impose the law and try to hold people accountable.”
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