A Lowell, Massachusetts man was in court Nov. 23 to answer charges of drunk driving after he hit a mother and two toddlers in a crosswalk. The Boston Globe reported Nov. 24 that Chamroeun Theam, 60, pleaded not guilty to second-offense operating under the influence and OUI with serious bodily injury, among other charges. Theam is accused of hitting Nina Wilkin, 25; her daughter Katelyn Dickie, 2; and her son Jonathan Dickie Jr., 4. The family was near the end of a crosswalk on Fletcher Street in Lowell when the light changed and Theam accelerated through the intersection. The crash threw Jonathan out of their double stroller, leaving him with head injuries. His mother and sister sustained only minor injuries.
According to the police report, Theam's blood-alcohol concentration tested at 0.26 -- more than three times the legal limit of 0.08. Officers said he failed field sobriety tests and seemed to be talking to himself. The RMV revoked his license immediately. In court, Theam's daughters and daughter-in-law said they would prefer him to stay off the road and get help for his depression, which they trace to his terrifying experiences living under the Khmer Rouge in his native Cambodia. Police said Theam's driving record includes a DUI in Wisconsin from 1994 as well as two crashes and five other traffic citations.
Read article: Family on mend after close call
As an experienced Massachusetts drunk driving defense attorney, I doubt Theam makes a good candidate for a "second chance" 24D/alternative disposition sentence. The 24D program is generally not available to second offenders, but Massachusetts law allows an exception for cases where the first offense is more than 10 years old. Rather than facing the sentence for a second OUI, which includes mandatory jail time and steep fines, these offenders can be sentenced to two years of probation, alcohol classes and much lower fines. (However, the RMV will still suspend their licenses for two years, and install an ignition interlock device if any hardship license is granted.)
If his daughter-in-law was telling the truth, Theam survived a horrifying episode in his native country's history, in which a totalitarian regime killed fifth of its population in four years through torture, execution, famine and disease. It is not surprising that Theam might be suffering from depression, as his family suggested. If that's the case, this accident might provide the motivation he needs to get help. But in the hands of a good Massachusetts OUI defense attorney, he may be able to get that help without having his new life in the United States damaged by the harsh penalties for a second drunk driving conviction.