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Driver Granted License Despite 6 Duis State Law Doesn’t Bar Habitual Offenders From Eventually Driving Again

Harry Haight has driven illegally just about every way possible.

Since 1980, the 56-year-old Spokane businessman has been convicted of drunken driving six times, driving without a valid operator’s license nine times, negligent driving twice and reckless driving once.

In 1994, he pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide after he killed a friend in an alcohol-related car crash.

His license has been suspended or revoked nearly a dozen times.

Yet in February, two months after being released from prison on the vehicular homicide conviction, Haight was back behind the wheel with a valid driver’s license.

He was using that license at 1:45 a.m. on Aug. 17, when he was arrested for drunken driving in the Spokane Valley.

“Brother,” said Mark Sterk, a Spokane police sergeant and state representative from the Valley who has worked to toughen criminal traffic laws. “That makes me so angry.”

“That’s amazing,” said Capt. Marsh Pugh, the Washington State Patrol’s liaison to the Legislature.

But that’s the law in the state of Washington, according to officials with the Department of Licensing.

Even the most heinous drivers - branded “habitual traffic offenders” under state law - can get their licenses back eventually, said Debbie Schmidt, a Department of Licensing official in Olympia.

“That’s the way the law’s written,” she said Friday.

Once someone is tagged as a habitual offender, he or she loses their driving privileges for five years, Schmidt said.

That happened to Haight in 1993, and he was driving without a license when he wrecked his car the next year, killing his passenger - John Reeves, 35, of Spokane.

But after two years, even habitual offenders can apply to have their licenses reinstated, Schmidt said.

They have to meet strict criteria.

In Haight’s case, he had to buy expensive “high-risk” automobile insurance and show progress in a state-certified alcohol-abuse treatment program, Schmidt said.

If they are successful in meeting the conditions imposed by the Department of Licensing, as Haight was, habitual offenders get their licenses back for a one-year probationary period, Schmidt said.

During that time, they can’t be cited for any traffic crimes that require a court appearance or pile up more than four traffic infractions, she said.

Violating those terms means they forfeit their license for the remainder of their revocation time or for a year, whichever is longer.

Haight, who is being held in the Spokane County Jail without bond on a probation violation, will lose his license for a year if his latest drunken driving arrest holds up in court, Schmidt said.

That’s not good enough for Sterk, who said Friday he will take a hard look at Haight’s driving record and see whether more can be done to punish habitual offenders.

“How long does it take for us to learn that there are some people we can’t put behind the wheel?” he said.

Pugh also pledged to “close any loopholes in the law” that allow habitual offenders to keep driving.

But he conceded laws can only do so much.

“Someone like Mr. Haight isn’t going to care whether he has a license or not,” he said. “I don’t know what we can do.”

, DataTimes

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