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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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Oft-convicted drunken driver
back in court for 10th time

The Patriot Ledger

A Kingston man with nine drunken driving convictions has been arrested again after police say he was spotted swerving into the oncoming lane on a road in Hanson.
Old Colony Memorial photo
Russell Santheson, 50, of Kingston is being held without bail after pleading innocent to drunken driving charges.

Russell Santheson, 50, pleaded innocent in Plymouth District Court yesterday to six charges, including the 10th drunken driving charge he has faced. Hanson police stopped him at 1:24 a.m. yesterday on Monponsett Street.

Witnesses, including a Hanson police officer, said Santheson swerved into oncoming traffic, nearly forcing other cars off the road. The officers who arrested Santheson said that the cab of his pickup truck reeked of alcohol and that he had urinated on himself.

Despite his lengthy record, Santheson was driving yesterday with a valid license, which he got back in May. His attorney pointed out that his most recent drunken driving arrest was nearly 10 years ago.

The law now calls for a driver to lose his or her license for life after a fifth drunken driving conviction. Santheson, however, benefited from a prior law that prevented drunken driving convictions more than 10 years old from being used in court against a defendant. All previous convictions can now be considered when sentencing someone for drunken driving.

Santheson, who lives at 67 Ring Road, is scheduled to return to court Tuesday for a dangerousness hearing. Until then, he is being held without bail in the Plymouth County Jail.

In addition to his 10th drunken driving charge, Santheson also faces charges of negligent operation of a motor vehicle, marked lane violation, failure to stop, failure to keep right and failure to signal, according to Bridget Norton-Middleton, a spokeswoman for Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz.

Santheson’s first drunken driving conviction in Massachusetts was in 1975. Two years later, he was again arrested and received a fine. In 1983, he was arrested a third time for drunken driving and received probation. Less than a year later, he was again arrested, convicted and fined.

In 1984, after his second drunken-driving conviction in one year and his fifth drunken-driving conviction overall, he was sentenced to six months in jail.

He was arrested again in 1991, but it wasn’t until 1994 and his seventh conviction that he received a 21/2-year sentence. He was released after a year, and arrested again in 1996, receiving the same sentence. After another year served, he was arrested for the ninth time and again received a 21/2-year sentence.

Santheson’s attorney, Pam Churchill, said he hasn’t been convicted of drunken driving in almost 10 years and has only once failed to show up for a court date.

A review of Santheson’s Department of Motor Vehicle record shows that for eight of the last 10 years, Santheson’s driver’s license was suspended.

A 2003 Patriot Ledger investigation found that the state’s lax drunken driving laws let dozens of people remain on the road despite as many as nine drunken driving arrests.

The Ledger also found that drunken driving was often treated as a petty crime.

Only 15 percent of 7,306 drunken drivers convicted in the state’s district courts in 2002 received any jail time. Of those, nearly 80 percent received eight months or less.

Karen Eschbacher contributed to this report.


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