Don’t let verdict ring hollow

Courts across the state contain many files of people who have been convicted of driving while intoxicated – not just once, but three, four or even five times.

Because sentences generally are not tough enough for these multiple-times offenders – and that’s because of state sentencing guidelines that are too weak for a crime that could snuff out an innocent person’s life in an instant – these individuals continue to endanger themselves, others and others’ property.

If they’ve faced charges that many times, it’s reasonable to assume they’ve been behind the wheel other times while drunk but didn’t get caught.

Hopefully, based on his experience before Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva on Aug. 23, Michael A. Grimes, 21, won’t become even a second-time offender. The sentence meted out by Kopriva should make him realize he’d be a fool to risk putting himself in his current predicament again.

Grimes didn’t kill anyone when his SUV went out of control on Dec. 23 and slammed into a parked van, but the inconvenience and hardship he caused an Altoona family while driving with a blood-alcohol content well above the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle merited Kopriva’s determination to get deserved restitution for his victims.

The van Grimes’ vehicle destroyed was used for transporting a person with special needs.

The loss of the vehicle has caused serious, ongoing hardship in getting the 13-year-old girl in question to doctor appointments, besides the other inconveniences the loss of the van has caused for its owner, Brenda Kniss.

The details about Grimes’ experience before Kopriva were reported in an article in the Aug. 24 Mirror, but the one detail that stands out is the judge’s determination to get financial restitution for the victims as quickly as possible.

Rather than allowing Grimes to pay the restitution slowly, Kopriva recommended that he borrow the needed money – $3,200 – as soon as possible and put the financial hardship on himself.

Then the judge took the unusual stance of ordering that Grimes’ case be reviewed in six months to ascertain the status of the restitution.

“If that is not happening, we will have a hearing to find out why not,” she said. “You’ve hurt a lot of people here … it’s crunch time.”

Grimes should be striving to be a law-abiding, productive member of society, but it’s questionable whether he has been committed to that goal. His attorney, trying to exact leniency for Grimes, told the court that he already was experiencing financial hardship due to a monthly payment of $500 connected to a bad-check charge.

To her credit, Kopriva wasn’t swayed.

“I’m not here to solve your problem,” she said. “You’ll have to work it out yourself.”

Grimes could do a lot of growing up if he heeds the judge’s words.