By Stephanie Bergman
When Andrew Millyan, 55, of South Grafton, was stopped on Route 128 in Manchester and charged last week with his eighth drunken driving offense, he might not have known it, but he was hardly alone.
In the past two years, Gloucester police alone have arrested 26 people for multiple drunken driving offenses, in addition to the 78 pinched on a first offense.
And Gloucester isn't exactly an outlier, either.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, more than 26,000 Massachusetts drivers have three or more drunken driving convictions.
"They re-offend No. 1, because we let them, and No. 2, because they can," said David DeIulis, spokesman for MADD.
DeIulis said that the state is simply too lenient toward drunken driving offenders, with the punishment for the first offense generally alcohol education classes if the driver expresses remorse.
Multiple convictions can result in a suspended license or jail time, but exactly how many convictions that would take is up to the judge.
The Millyan case in Manchester has drawn attention in part because he is also a paroled killer — released in 2002 after serving 20 years and having his shotgun murder of a man playing pool in a Revere bar reduced to a second-degree offense. Yet, despite his seven prior DUI convictions, Millyan produced what police have said is a valid driver's license.
"By the time a guy gets seven or eight (drunk driving convictions), it's out of law enforcement's hands, and it's in the hands of the courts," said Gloucester Police Chief Michael Lane.
"There is a fair amount of recidivism," said Lane — though he noted that all crimes have high recidivism rates, and that drunken driving is not unique in the number of multiple offenders.
According to Lane, proving multiple drunken driving offenses is exceedingly difficult, since the prosecution needs to present evidence about each prior offense at the trials for subsequent offenses in order to allow the previous convictions to be taken into account.
MADD ranks Massachusetts 40th in the country in terms of laws that prevent drunken driving.
Massachusetts was the last state to reduce the blood alcohol level required to be legally impaired from 0.10 percent to 0.08, and only did so following a threat from the federal government to withhold highway money if the state did not change the law.
Now, MADD is trying to get the state to adopt a law that would require all drunken driving offenders to have a device installed in their cars that prevents the car from starting unless the driver can pass a Breathalyzer test.
Currently, the device, known as an interlock, can be ordered installed on the cars of repeat offenders, though that is not a mandatory punishment.
State Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante of Gloucester said that, while she has not looked at any legislation that would require an interlock on the cars of those convicted of drunk driving, she described herself as "generally supportive" of efforts to curb drunken driving or eliminate it entirely.
"Certainly we need to look at efforts to stop drunken driving offenses," said Ferrante.
Ferrante said she wanted to find a way to stop drunken driving entirely, not just reduce the number of arrests.
Of course, much of that is up to the drivers themselves.
On Jan. 29, Blake Beath of Winthrop Avenue in Gloucester nearly claimed the distinction of being arrested for drunken driving twice in the same day.
The 46-year-old was arrested early that morning, then apparently stopped by the Crow's Nest for a drink after being released. A bartender stopped him from getting in his car, saying he was too drunk to drive, when police pulled up. Had Beath gotten into the car, police said, he would have been arrested again.
According to MADD statistics, drunken driving accidents caused an estimated 115 deaths in Massachusetts last year, and many of them involved drivers who had never been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, but who nonetheless were legally intoxicated at the time of the crash.
"We've had a couple of accidents recently, and we're going to find that they're alcohol-related," said Lane.
Stephanie Bergman can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.