Twenty-first Judicial District Judge John Bosch cheapened the lives of two Kansans killed in a drunk driving crash last year when he handed their killer a 60-day jail sentence and 36 months of probation.
In fact, the judge seemed more impressed with Miles Theurer, who pleaded no contest in May to two counts of involuntary manslaughter, than he was with Mr. Theurer’s victims or the severity of his offense. Judge Bosch went so far as to describe Mr. Theurer as an “exceptional person.” Mr. Theurer, 24, is a veterinary student at Kansas State University.
He may well be “exceptional,” but that doesn’t justify either the slap on the wrist he got from the judge or the judge’s slap in the faces of the victims’ survivors. For in choosing to drive home despite being drunk, Mr. Theurer showed exceptionally bad judgment. He not only killed two people, he also risked his own life and the lives of other occupants in his truck.
The victims, Michael Stanley and Elizabeth Young, were both 31 and lived in Ogden. They were westbound on K-18 near the Manhattan Regional Airport the morning of May 14, 2012, when the truck Mr. Theurer was driving crossed into their lane and collided head-on with their sedan. Mr. Theurer and three other veterinary students were returning home after a night of drinking at a strip club in Junction City. Mr. Theurer’s blood-alcohol content was twice the legal threshold for intoxication.
Mr. Stanley and Ms. Young, both of whom had children, were engaged to be married. Their children deserve a better measure of justice than Judge Bosch meted out.
As part of Mr. Theurer’s 36 months of probation, during which he can continue to pursue his veterinary degree, he must give 36 speeches to high school, college and other audiences about the perils of drinking and driving. That sounds constructive. Unfortunately, the judge can’t order Mr. Theurer’s audiences to ignore the fact that his speeches are mandatory, not voluntary. Nor can the judge expect Mr. Theurer’s punishment to serve as much of a deterrent to his audiences or anyone else.
In issuing the sentence, Judge Bosch rejected a reasonable plea agreement under which Mr. Theurer would have served three years in prison. That sentence, as prosecutors pointed out, reflected the fact that Mr. Theurer had no criminal record.
Judges in Kansas, however, have the discretion to depart from presumptive sentences if they believe “substantial and compelling” reasons exist. Judge Bosch, who’s been on the bench for less than a year, clearly believed they existed in this case. He was wrong.