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A Patriot Ledger series: Summary | PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | UPDATES

Melanie's Story

A first-hand story from the grandfather of 13-year-old victim Melanie Powell
Memories of Melanie: A photo slideshow


State ranked among the worst in nation
Quincy judge was among first to take a hard line


TIMELINE: How Massachusetts drunken driving law has changed
Alcohol's causes and effects
How local and state courts treat repeat drunken drivers
Busiest courts in state for drunken driving arraignments

The cost of drunken driving

Massachusetts fails compared with other states
Death toll from drunken driving

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Giving keys to a friend with no license? Pay up

Bill carries $5,000 fine for giving your keys to unlicensed drivers

~ The Patriot Ledger

A Quincy man whose newborn great-granddaughter remains in critical condition after a car crash involving an unlicensed driver hailed a bill filed today that would increase penalties for people who knowingly let illegal drivers behind the wheel.

"Of course I'm very happy," said Edward Melia, whose granddaughter, Katelyn Melia, was nine months pregnant at the time of Sunday's crash and had to have an emergency Caesarean section.

"We have to expose what the problem really is," Melia said. "The only way we're going to stop these people and stop this mayhem is through our state legislators."

Lawrence J. Robertson, 43, of Braintree, who allegedly was high on drugs when the car he was driving hit Melia's SUV, hasn't had a valid driver's license since the 1980s, according to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Police say Robertson's girlfriend knew he wasn't allowed to drive but let him borrow her pickup truck anyway.

Under the current law, such offenses are punishable by a $35 fine, state Sen. Michael Morrissey, D-Quincy, said.

But under the bill filed by Morrissey, State Sen. Robert Creedon and Norfolk County District Attorney William Keating, anyone who knowingly lends a car to someone without a license could face up to 21/2 years in jail, have their own license yanked for 90 days or be hit with a fine of up to $5,000.

The bill would also increase the penalty for employers that let an unlicensed driver operate a vehicle for business purposes from $35 to $500 for a first offense. A second or subsequent offense would carry a penalty of up to $1,000 or a year in jail.

"A judge needs the discretion to be able to mete out punishment that is greater than $35," said Morrissey, who spoke with Edward Melia after Sunday's crash. "That's what we're trying to do here, give the courts some discretion."

Melia said the $35 penalty is "ridiculous."

"I don't know what the parking tickets are in Boston now, but they're probably more than $35," he said.

Sen. Robert Creedon, D-Brockton, agreed that tougher treatment is needed

"It's outrageous that we haven't changed the law," Creedon said. "It's a $35 fine. If you knowingly lend your motor vehicle to someone who doesn't have a license, you ought to pay a penalty."

A separate bill filed earlier this year by Gov. Mitt Romney also seeks to address the issue of people who drive with a suspended license.

"Melanie's Bill," named for 13-year-old Melanie Powell of Marshfield who was killed by a repeat drunken driver, would require a mandatory three-month jail stay for anyone convicted of drunken driving who is later caught driving without a license.

The bill also includes tougher punishments for drivers who refuse breath tests and creates new laws with stiff penalties for people who have especially high blood alcohol contents or who drink and drive with a child in the car.

Morrissey said it appears that aspects of Melanie's Bill will be contentious and could prompt a long debate. He's hoping the more narrow, focused bill will pass quickly.

As for Katelyn Melia, 24, she remains at Boston Medical Center, though her grandfather said she is improving every day. Her new daughter is still on a ventilator, Edward Melia said.

In another incident this week, a bicyclist was hospitalized Wednesday after being struck in Duxbury by a car driven by a man with a revoked license.

The cyclist, Shawn Fields-Berry, 45, of East Bridgewater, was in good condition today at Massachusetts General Hospital.



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