Loophole lets suspended drivers back on the road
Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates
Note: This is the first part of a two-part series. Read part two here.
Indianapolis - The State of Indiana suspended 16,000 licenses in 2010 for drunk driving-related charges. But 13 Investigates has uncovered a loophole in the law allowing some of those same dangerous offenders back on the road - some of them even drunk.
They're not driving cars, but motorized cycles. We took a look at who's behind those low-powered wheels with no license or insurance and putting your families at risk.
"I remember going to a friend's house and drinking. I don't remember leaving his house," 49-year-old Randy Bunton admitted about the night last October he crashed into a turning car at one of Muncie's busiest intersections.
13 Investigates caught up with Bunton in a Muncie park. His only form of transportation these days are his own two feet. Now each hard, cold step serves as a sobering reminder of a near lethal mix.
"Next thing I knew I woke up in a hospital. I broke my wrist," he said, showing our cameras the plate and screws now supporting fragile bones.
Bunton, an admitted serial drunk driver, was riding what Indiana calls a motorized bicycle. In street slang they're known as "Liquor Cycles: A small..low horse-powered 49cc scooter or moped, used by those who have obtained excessive DUI's and can't drive a normal vehicle legally."
Police call them dangerous in the wrong hands.
"And they're back out driving, and they're driving drunk. Some of them are on those mopeds drunk," said Sgt. Bruce Qualls, a Crash Reconstruction and Traffic Enforcement Supervisor with Muncie Police.
On the night Bunton crashed, his blood alcohol content measured .265 - more than three times the legal limit drunk.
13 Investigates asked Bunton about his troubling drunk driving history.
"Driving under the influence, Driving While intoxicated, Operating Under the Influence, and Operating while intoxicated. Several of all of those," he said without apology. "It's terrible," he later added shrugging his shoulders.
State law says anyone at least 15 years old with either a state ID or a valid driver's license can ride a motorized bicycle, with speeds topping 25 miles per hour.
Sgt. Qualls says that's just wrong. He calls Indiana's laws outdated and the consequences appalling.
"If you're suspended, you shouldn't be on the moped, just that simple. To me, it's like saying, 'ha, you took my license, but I can still drive'", Qualls said in disbelief, noting that suspended drivers are openly flaunting the loophole.
Outside Hamilton County Community Corrections, Larry Mullins' moped gets reserved parking.
"I'm warming it up right now to go to work," Mullins told 13 Investigates a very cold afternoon in December. "Usually this whole parking lot right here is full of them. There's at least 15 or 20 of us right now that still ride them."
This is the last stop for offenders between prison and their impending release. Part of their successful transition requires them to get a job and go to work. For many, a moped is the only answer, says Executive Director Ralph Watson.
"At any given time half of our population probably does not have a driver's license. Many times it's because of a criminal offense," explained Watson.
That was the case with Larry Mullins.
"It's suspended right now," he admitted to 13 Investigates.
"So you can't drive a car or truck legally?" we asked.
"Yeah," Mullins responded, but noted that in Indiana, "A 50cc moped...yes, you can."
But Mullins wasn't as familiar with the rules of the road on a 50cc moped.
"Actually I don't even know, tell the God's honest truth. I just drive it," he conceded.
Whether it's unpaid tickets, accidents with no insurance or DUI's, the moped is a popular choice among those putting in their time, and braving extreme possibly dangerous conditions on the road. On the day we visited Hamilton County Community Corrections, temperatures were below freezing and snow and ice in parking lots and some roadways.
"There is concern about that from a safety issue. Many of these individuals may have lost their license because of a past history, but they've worked very hard to stay drug and alcohol free," added Watson, who recognized the efforts of offenders trying to making positive changes.
Moped drivers at the half-way house are tested for alcohol as they walk in the door. But it's hit or miss for those on the outside.
In September 2008, a repeat drunk driver who was suspended but back on the road on a moped slowed to turn into a drive off busy US 24 in Cass County when a dump truck swerved to miss him, and instead crashed into a school bus. Four children were killed.
The moped was on a federal two-lane highway with posted speeds of 55 miles per hour. The driver was not charged, or tested for alcohol. Indiana law only prohibits mopeds on the interstate.
"If it's dangerous to be on an interstate at 70 mph, why is it not dangerous to be on a state highway at 55? Or on a city street at 40 mph?" argued Qualls about apparent contradictions in the law.
Not even a life time suspension can stop a habitual offender from getting on Indiana roads on a moped. The big question is, if they're caught driving drunk, can they be charged with driving under the influence? Delaware County Prosecutors say yes.
Randy Bunton was ticketed for OWI but has yet to go to court for the October crash. Delaware County says it's still awaiting toxicology tests.
"Yes, I have a lifetime suspension, that's why I buy scooters," Bunton said of his status with the State of Indiana.
"You didn't have to have a license, or plates or insurance or any of that?," 13 Investigates asked him.
"I loved all of that. You know it, it gave me mobility. But I abused it," Bunton said of the loophole he's been taking advantage of for years.
"People like me should have a breathalyzer on their scooter. Something needs to be done. But I just don't know what," Bunton said.
Right now there are two bills before the Indiana House of Representatives dealing with mopeds. But neither specifically addresses the issue of suspended drivers.
We took our findings to the lawmakers who actually authored the bills. We'll tell you why they say this is a life and death situation. Our investigation continues Tuesday on Eyewitness News at 5:30