Abdallah case highlights battle for tougher DWI laws

by JIM DOUGLAS | WFAA-TV | April 23, 2010

ARLINGTON – A repeat drunk driver, John Patrick Barton had three prior convictions and now faces murder charges.

However, his is not the only face that has sparked outrage over the state’s drunk driving laws. Stewart Richardson had seven previous convictions before his alleged eighth left an Arlington child in a vegetative state. If convicted, Richardson’s sentence cannot exceed 20 years, no matter how many convictions.

Now, there is a push to change that.

State Rep. Chris Turner is leading the effort for tougher DWI laws, which would be called Abdallah’s Law, named after three-year-old Abdallah Khader.

While the law wouldn’t help Abdallah, it could help other victims and maybe get more drunks off the roads.

Steroids now help keep Abdallah alive in a permanent vegetative state. Abdallah can’t move, but his story has moved a lot of people. About 10,000 people have signed up on the Facebook page “Pray for Abdallah.” People are outraged by the long DWI history of Richardson, the driver who crushed the Khader family’s car, leaving Abdallah in his current state.

“A person with seven DWIs before, I thought it was obvious to put this man in jail for life,” said Loubna Elharazin, Abdallah’s mother.

Prior to the crash with the Khader family,  the DWIs were in other states. Unless Texas prosecutors convince an appeals court otherwise, the most Richardson faces if convicted is 20 years.

“I think the time is right for the legislature to act on this, and really, really get aggressive with drunk driving,” Turner said.

Turner, who met with Abdallah’s family, wants laws tightened to make sure all out-of-state DWIs carry their full weight in Texas courts. Turner also wants tougher penalties for intoxication assault when the results are catastrophic.

“Obviously, that type of catastrophic injury is far different than breaking a leg, breaking an arm, that sort of thing,” he said.

Change in DWI cases is something Abdallah’s mother hopes will save lives.

“No law that’s going to get passed will take this pain away,” she said. “It’s not going to change anything, but it will protect other people.”

Khader turns four next week. His family will throw him a party, but just like his third birthday, he’ll never know it.

Texas is the worst state for drunk driving deaths. In the state of Texas, there were 1,292 alcohol-related deaths in 2007. Twenty-one percent of were in North Texas, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Saturday, dozens of members of “Abdallah’s Army,” as they call themselves, will don their bright yellow T-shirts and take part in the annual Walk Like MADD, sponsored by MADD. Thousands are expected to take part in the walk, which begins at 8:30 a.m.

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