SALT LAKE CITY — If you’re caught driving drunk, you pay the consequences. Get a citation, pay some fines and maybe even go to jail. But the KSL Investigators discovered there’s one more step that thousands of drunk drivers are ignoring. And it turns out, no one is really enforcing it.
It’s been almost four years since it happened, but for Tessa Madsen, it feels like it was yesterday. On May 8, 2014, Susan Madsen drove through a busy Draper intersection. Her daughter Tessa was in the passenger seat. They were headed to cheer practice.
“I remember asking her if we could stop at the gas station so I could get a snack,” said Tessa. “And then I don’t remember anything else.”
When Tessa woke up, she was in the hospital.
“I shattered my left leg. I cracked my skull. I broke my wrist, broke my jaw,” said Tessa.
She also said she received a severe brain injury—devastating injuries for the 13-year-old cheerleader and soccer player. But not nearly as devastating as losing her mom.
“It was a drunk driver who decided to run a red light,” said Jon Madsen, Susan’s husband.
Madsen said his wife was taken from this world too early by a man who shouldn’t have been behind the wheel: a drunk driver who plowed through that busy intersection, causing a seven-car pileup and killing Susan.
“He should not have been on the road that day, period,” said Madsen.
The truth is there are thousands of drivers in Utah who shouldn’t be on the road and yet they are. There are drivers with open containers of alcohol, drivers with revoked licenses and drivers who should have an ignition interlock device but don’t.
Chris Muirbrook installs interlock devices for people found guilty of DUI and ordered by the court to get one. Their purpose is to make sure a person hasn’t been drinking before getting behind the wheel.
“We’re figuring between two and three thousand of them are installed,” Muirbrook said.
Unfortunately, that’s not nearly enough. Here’s what KSL Investigators uncovered. According to the Driver’s License Division, 7,366 Utah drivers are currently ordered to have an ignition interlock on any vehicle they drive. About 2,000 people have one but more than 5,000 people do not. That means 72 percent of all drivers who were ordered to install an interlock device have not done it.
“It’s a major concern,” said Muirbrook. “It really is and it always has been.”
There are drivers like 40-year-old Alvin Henson.
He was found guilty of automobile homicide for hitting and killing Randy Wirth, who was riding a motorcycle. Henson was also charged with driving a vehicle without an interlock device.
Then there’s 44-year-old Jason Kaze. In March 2017, court records show he hit a bicyclist, critically injuring him. Kaze was charged with driving under the influence and not having an ignition interlock installed. Just last week, he was sentenced to prison for up to five years on the DUI conviction.
After a little more digging, KSL Investigators discovered there are hundreds of people who violate the interlock restriction every year. In fact, in the past five years, there have been more than 11,000 violations. We asked the state to give us the names of the violators, but they say that’s private information.
So we went looking for possible violators ourselves.
First, we knocked on the door of a man who has been charged with DUI five times. Court records show he was also caught twice without an interlock and charged. The man wasn’t home, but his girlfriend told us he has a device now.
Our next stop was to the address of a man who’s been charged with DUI twice in the last 14 years, driving without a license on a dozen occasions and driving without an interlock device four times. His most recent interlock violation was less than two months ago. He still doesn’t have the interlock device but claims he doesn’t drive.
Chris Caras is the director of the Driver’s License Division.
“I was somewhat surprised at the numbers that came out,” Caras said.
He said if someone is caught without an interlock device, they could face court fines or risk their license revoked or suspended. But they have to get caught first.
“There are some states that do have very aggressive programs for monitoring,” said Caras. “Then there are others that are more like Utah.”
Turns out, no one is following up to see if drivers convicted of DUI are actually getting the interlocks installed.
“So you guys don’t enforce it?” asked Mike Headrick.
“We only enforce it related to the driving privilege,” said Caras.
Caras says with the way the state code is written, there is no staff, no money, no way of enforcing the law … until someone is caught. Until, arguably, it’s already too late.
“Should the code be changed?” asked Headrick.
“I’m an administrator. So I do what I’m charged with doing,” said Caras.
“Is there a concern about improving out programs?” asked Headrick.
“Always. What are the best ways to improve those programs? Again, that’s kind of a debate for policymakers to decide,” said Caras.
The truth is, there are thousands of drivers in Utah who shouldn’t be on the road and yet they are—drivers like the man who killed Susan Madsen. He wasn’t required to have an interlock device, but having one may have kept him off the road.
“He took away my wife, but more importantly, he took away the mom of my kids,” said Jon Madsen.
“I’ll always be angry at him,” said Tessa. “He took away my mom and my best friend.”
A couple of the drivers we spoke with who don’t have an interlock say it’s way too expensive. KSL Investigators checked with an installation complany who told us the installation fee ranges from $50-$125. There’s also a fee of $60-$80 per month, and it’s up to the driver to pay.