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'Bentley's Law' could require convicted drunk drivers to pay child support to victims' families

If passed, Wisconsin would join Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas and Maine with similar legislation
Sheila Lockwood.jpeg
Posted at 9:22 AM, Jan 31, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-31 10:22:03-05

MADISON — New legislation in Madison hopes to address the accountability of drunk drivers.

One of the people leading the cause for this is Sheila Lockwood.

We have spoken to her multiple times over the years since she lost her son Austin at the hands of a drunk driver back in 2018.

“It doesn't matter if it's Christmas or birthday, or Monday or Friday. It's a day without seeing his face and without hearing his voice and no amount of time heals that,” said Lockwood.

The man responsible for Austin’s death was convicted and sent to jail for three years, less than half of the time Sheila has been without her son.

“So many times people think that it's over once the trial is over, when somebody maybe spends a little bit of time in jail, and it's not,” said Lockwood.

One of the lawmakers behind the bill, State Senator Jesse L. James, says he understands money can’t fill the void of a lost loved one, but can potentially ease the burden on those left behind.

“Losing a prominent member of the family is a tragedy and adjustment in any circumstance. But losing your parent through an unexpected accident has ripple effects that can last a lifetime,” James said.

Wisconsin State Senate Bill 87 is also known as Bentley’s Law, which is named for a Missouri boy who lost both his parents and a sibling in a crash caused by a drunk driver back in 2021.

If it passes, it would require impaired drivers to pay restitution in the form of child support if they cause a crash that kills a parent or a legal guardian.

“The family that is left after losing someone; it never gets better. It never is fixed and this is just one way to make sure that those minors are taken care of,” said Lockwood.

Similar laws have already passed in four states: Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas and Maine.

While she lives in Illinois, Sheila says she’s committed to passing this law in Wisconsin as well, not just because she lost her son here, but to ensure no one else suffers like she has.

“I have so much pain inside I had pushed that someplace and make it into this passion that I've got now,” said Lockwood. “If it can help one other family, in honor of Austin and other victims, it's worth the fight.”

The bill currently sits in the Senate’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, where more discussions are expected to take place in the coming weeks and months.