KANSAS CITY, Mo. — About 10,000 people are killed by drunk drivers every year. That’s one alcohol related death every 48 minutes.
Those drivers usually face criminal charges, including driving while intoxicated and involuntary manslaughter, and the corresponding sentence. But that doesn’t always happen, especially in one local county. FOX4 uncovered cases where drunk drivers killed someone and served little, if any, time behind bars.
That has some families asking, “Where is the justice?”
Oscar Jimenez was a devoted son, loving brother and best friend taken too soon. His life was cut short by a drunk driver on Sept. 24, 2016.
“It has been a little over 2 years, and it is still crazy to think we do not get to see him again,” said Karen Pardun, Oscar’s sister.
Jimenez went to a party the night he died. Responsibly, he took an Uber home. Along the way he became sick and asked the driver to pull over.
While standing outside the car, an intoxicated driver hit Oscar, and he died instantly. The Uber driver was also injured in the crash.
“It is like a new life, and you just have to learn to live. And, it is hard,” Pardun said.
Jackson County prosecutors charged 19-year-old Alannis Bremer with two felonies, involuntary manslaughter for Jimenez’s death and second-degree assault for injuring the Uber driver.
If convicted of Jimenez’s death alone, she faced at least 5 years behind bars.
Records show Bremer posted bond, and while her drunk driving case was still pending, she was drinking at a Leawood bar, bragging she would never go to jail for his death.
“Obviously she is not sorry. She is not remorseful. From the police report you can tell right away,” Pardun said.
According to the police report, Bremer told the bartender, “Yeah, I killed someone. Yeah, I remember everything. The cops are stupid. They think I’m going to jail for 7-10 years, and I’m not going to serve any time because I have one of the best defense attorneys in Kansas City.”
“She says that she remembers it, the night that she committed this, and it’s a horrible scene,” Pardun said. “Then for her to still be able — it makes me really angry.”
Fueling the anger was the plea agreement. Bremer was sent to prison for 3 years for injuring the Uber driver but no time behind bars for Oscar’s death. Instead, she got 5 years probation.
“That’s when we really put everything together, that we really did not matter,” Pardun said.
FOX4 discovered this isn’t the only case where a drunk or impaired driver killed someone and received a light sentence.
We reviewed numerous, similar cases in our five-county region and discovered the sentences in Jackson County are softer than other counties, with time given anywhere from probation to just 120 days in prison.
Consider this 2016 case when a teenage driver, with a blood alcohol content of .121 and opioids in his system, killed 17-year-old Nefertiti Smith. Jackson County charged 17-year-old Tamerick Wright with involuntary manslaughter, a Class C felony.
In a plea agreement, that Nefertiti’s family does not consider justice, a judge sentenced Wright to SIS and 3 years probation. The SIS, or suspended imposition of sentence, means that charge will never show up on his criminal or driving record, according to legal experts.
FOX4 shared our findings with Kansas City-based attorney Chris Mann, a former police officer injured by a drunk driver.
“If probation is going to be the norm for killing someone in this country, then we need to ask, ‘Where has the justice gone?'” Mann said.
It’s a pattern that’s alarming and frustrating to Mann.
“It appears in other counties that those laws are being used. People are going to prison for sometimes a decade or more. But in Jackson County, that just does not seem to be the case,” Mann said.
He said it’s time Jackson County take these cases more seriously.
“Driving drunk is no different than shooting a gun down a crowded sidewalk. It is reckless. It is dangerous. It may or may not hit somebody but it is still no less reckless or dangerous,” Mann said.
In Platte County, Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd warned that drunk drivers who kill someone on his watch will likely face time behind bars.
“I believe that where the evidence allows, a drunk driver who kills somebody else should see the inside of a prison cell,” Zahnd said.
Cases we reviewed show Platte County sentenced drunk drivers, charged with involuntary manslaughter, anywhere from 4 to 13 years in prison.
“There is just no reason from somebody to get behind the wheel when they are drunk. There are just too many options on good ways to get home,” Zahnd said.
While Jimenez’s family continues to grieve, they’re fighting for stricter laws and a minimum prison time for drunk drivers who kill someone. It’s change they hope will bring justice and make people take these cases — and devastating losses — more seriously.
“Having stricter punishments so people do not think they can just go out and get away with it — because that is what is happening,” Pardun said.
The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office released the following statement to FOX4:
“The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office strives to achieve justice for victims in every case, without fear or favor. Our prosecutors’ achievements rank with or are higher than any other office in the state of Missouri. The cases examined by FOX4 are not representative and are too few on which to base any broader conclusions.
“But we hear, value and do not discount those families’ concerns. We are troubled if we ever hear that a family is upset by the outcome of a criminal case. We stand by with open doors and open minds ready to consult with any victim or citizen who wishes to discuss the reasons for our actions or policies.
“Over the last year, we have initiated numerous new efforts to enhance prosecution of vehicular manslaughter-DWI cases, including stepped-up efforts to aggressively seek search warrants for phone records and the black box technology of vehicles involved. Our vehicular cases are reviewed regularly by an internal committee of specially trained veteran prosecutors, who stand by to assist with investigations and are available 24/7. In recent years, we’ve also begun to file felony murder cases instead of Involuntary Manslaughter charges, if facts allow. This often results in stronger sentences.
“We have had outlier cases where we too have been frustrated with the results. But upon objective examination of the full volume of cases resolved in recent years, sentences achieved in Jackson County on vehicular cases are strong and are in line with or often exceed statewide averages.”
FOX4 shared our findings with local lawmakers. Missouri State Rep. Ken Wilson of Smithville said he would review our results for possible legislative action, including mandatory minimum sentences and legislation to hold prosecutors accountable.
Since Jimenez’s death, his family held several fundraisers for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. They have raised nearly $5,800 for the organization. You can learn more about their efforts here.