As our Missouri car accident lawyers know, drunk drivers jeopardize the safety of everyone on our state's road - innocent drivers and passengers who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sadly, that includes young children who, in all too many cases, are riding in the same vehicle as the impaired driver.
This week, a Sparta man pleaded guilty to five criminal charges in connection with a drunk driving accident that resulted in the death of his three year-old son. After striking a plea agreement with prosecutors, 34 year-old John Clark pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter and four counts of second degree felony assault. The charges stem from a three-vehicle crash on Highway 14 in November 2012: law enforcement officials say Clark was eastbound near Cheyenne Road when he crossed the center line and struck an oncoming Ford Explorer. The Explorer was then struck by another vehicle.
Three year-old Kohen Clark was pronounced dead at the scene, while four other vehicle occupants suffered injuries in the collision. A blood test performed 33 minutes after the accident revealed that John Clark's blood alcohol content was 0.102%. Highway Patrol Trooper Shane Rowe investigated the scene and noted "a strong odor of an intoxicating beverage emitting from [Mr. Clark]" and that "Mr. Clark said he couldn't remember how the crash occurred." Currently, Clark is being held in the Christian County Jail until his sentencing hearing in January. He is also the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit, filed in October by Kohen Clark's mother, who was a passenger in John Clark's vehicle at the time of the accident, and who also suffered injuries.
Drunk driving accidents and child injuries: The tragic facts
• According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 211 children age 14 and under died in 2010 U.S. accidents caused by drunk drivers. In over half of those accidents, the children who suffered fatal injuries were riding in the same vehicle as the drunk driver.
• The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that "drinking drivers are much less likely to make sure a child is properly restrained. Specifically, in fatal crashes, sober drivers had restrained their children 30.5% of the time, compared with only 18% for drinking drivers."
• Nationwide, 43 states and Washington D.C. have enacted laws that create more severe penalties for drunk drivers when they are caught driving under the influence with children in their vehicles. The laws are widely varied in both their definition of what constitutes a "child passenger," and what penalties are imposed on offenders. Unfortunately, Missouri is one of the seven states that do not have such a law in place.