Marie Armstrong's Testimony on SB 421


On March 12, 2003, Marie Armstrong testified at the Oregon Legislature in support of Senate Bill 421, a bill in increase sentences for criminally negligent homicide in cases of Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants.

Here is her testimony.

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee:

My name is Marie Armstrong.

I'm a member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, but I am here today speaking in my own behalf. I am here to ask you to pass Senate bill 421.

On March 8th, 1996 I received a call that changed my life forever. A drunk driver killed my son Chance. As he laid dying friends of the drunk driver removed the keg of beer and all the beer cans from the truck that killed my son and severely injured his girlfriend Sara. Sara and Chance was hit twice, once on the passenger side and once on the drivers side. Three cars were involved in this crash that had two to four individuals in the cars. The day after the car crash everyone involved met to collaborate their stories to try and get off with no jail time. There was also an error at the site that changed the outcome of the charge; no blood tests were taken on the drivers.

Timothy Hedrick broke both my sons legs, his arm and broke his ribs that lacerated the bottom part of his heart and he died almost instantly. A witness checked Chance to see if he could help in any way in his statement he said, "the passenger sounded like he was choking on blood and taking his last breath, I know this because when I shot a deer this is what they sound like". This is how my son died in a car alone. Chance was a big boy with a loving heart. My son did not deserve to die so young he was only 20. Chance's family and friends were devastated. A part of all of us died with Chance that night.

In a plea bargain Timothy was convicted of Criminally Negligent Homicide with an Assault 3 charge for injuring Sara. He served only ninety days for killing my son and only ninety days for Assault 3. Sara suffered a permanent brain stem injury that she is still struggling to this day for a normal life. Sara is my Hero. He also lost his license for a period of eight years. DMV did not revoke his license for seven months and he was not incarcerated at the time.

Timothy was released and continued to drive the streets of Cottage Grove without a license, I would see him driving and call the Cottage Grove police and they would tell me "corner him and call them or take pictures". I'd like to think that a city of only eight thousand people that the police department would be able to see Timothy driving around as Sara's parents and I had.

I would hope that Timothy would have some remorse in killing my son, but he became a repeat offender. Chance had many friends in Cottage Grove and one of them told me that Timothy sideswiped a parked car and received a citation; I immediately called the DA's office and told him that I finally had the proof that he needed to get Timothy off the streets. As the DA was checking into the citation Timothy was arrested for a DUII and DWS and breaking his probation. The DA called me about this and told me that Timothy would get another 18 months in prison. Timothy received more jail time for being a repeat offender than he did for killing my son.

Now that Timothy has been released from prison I know that he has not changed his life style or driving habits. The types of people that commit careless, reckless, senseless crimes are an immediate threat to all of us. These are crimes without motive often striking without warning they are dangerous criminals.

There is an old cliche "walk a mile in my shoes". I know I speak for all the parents next to me here today, that we would not want any of you to walk this mile; it is a very lonely place to be. We were forced to let go of our children to a senseless crime. The sentence should incarcerate these individuals long enough to make a difference by educating and rehabilitating them. We should have zero tolerance to these crimes.

Passing this Bill would show drunk drivers we will not tolerate a slap on the wrist for taking another's life, the punishment should reflect the crime. Ninety days for Criminally Negligent Homicide is not a just punishment. It should be stated that in a car crash with a fatality, blood testing should be routine and zero tolerance for not obtaining the testing.

I have joined forces with my Friends and all the families that can not speak for themselves to fight back through legislation and to find courage to stand together so no other families are forced to walk a mile in our shoes. It's been seven years since I was forced to say goodbye to my beloved son and Best Friend, I could not protect my son from stupidity and recklessness, but you can help by passing this Bill to save lives and families from having to say Goodbye to their loved ones.

I cannot bring my son back, we can work together toward strengthening our laws and making the punishment fit the crime - hopefully saving lives.

Thank you for your time, I'm open for questions.

Marie Armstrong

Senate Bill 421 was passed by a near-unanimous vote of the legislature.

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