NBC 5 Investigates

One Mother’s Crusade For States to Share Info on Drunk Driving

Sheila Lockwood's son Austin was killed in an accident involving a drunk driver who kept his license, and even got a new one, until he was convicted and sent to jail.

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The email was enough to stop any seasoned reporter in his tracks.

"My name is Sheila Lockwood," it began. "On June 10, 2018, I was sentenced to life without my oldest son, Austin Lee Lockwood."

Austin Lockwood was just 23 years old when he volunteered to help a friend of a friend spruce up his cabin in upstate Wisconsin. That evening however, police said a man, Eric Labahn, smashed his car into a tree while legally drunk, and Austin, his passenger in the car, was killed.

"Sunday morning around 5 a.m. I got waken up by two police officers--they came here to the house," his mother recalled. "They kept telling me I needed to sit down and I said, I''m not sitting down.' And they said, 'we're sorry.'"

Police reports obtained by NBC 5 Investigates indicate Labahn was unable to blow into a breathalyzer at the scene, then refused a blood alcohol test at the hospital. A police officer obtained an order from an Oneida County judge and the test was performed, revealing Labahn's blood alcohol level at .117.

"He was going 72 miles an hour at the time he lost control," Lockwood said, "which is almost double the speed limit."

But the tragic story took a legally baffling turn when it came time to adjudicate Labahn's case. He had an Illinois driver's license, and under Illinois law, because he declined the alcohol test, his license should have been suspended for a year.

But Wisconsin has different laws. And Illinois wasn't told of the incident.

"He kept his driver's license in Illinois...Illinois was never notified to revoke his license," she said. "He and his family moved to Wisconsin...and they gave him a license."

Even though he faced criminal charges in connection with the accident, the state of Wisconsin issued him a new one, because the case was still pending in court.

A spokesman for the Illinois Secretary of State's Office confirmed that they would have suspended Labahn's license had they known about the incident; but they weren't told about it until Lockwood called them to ask why Labahn was still driving months after her son died.

"It's outrageous," she said. "Driving isn't a right, it's a privilege. He should have had his license revoked immediately."

When his case finally did got to trial last fall, Labahn was sentenced to three years in prison, over the objections of defense attorneys, and even a pre-sentence report which had reccommended probation.

"In my opinion," said the judge, "ordering probation in this case would unduly appreciate the gravity of the offense."

Lockwood notes that most states share information about incidents such as these through an agreement known as the 'Driver's License Compact.' Five states, including Wisconsin, don't take part.

She believes that must change.

"There has to be a better database," she said. "We have technology that you can find out information in a second."

So she has made it her mission to see the laws changed, and for all 50 states to begin sharing information. Austin's initials were A.L.L., she notes, and she believes ALL states should be on board with this push for traffic safety.

"I don't want anyone else to ever feel like this," she said. "The tragedy--it doesn't go away.

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