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Will drunken driver's sentence serve as a deterrent?

She was 23 years old and had been hired to teach music at a Wisconsin elementary school. But she'll never be able to give the gift of music to children, her father said at a sentencing hearing for the man accused of killing her while driving drunk.

The June car accident in Onalaska claimed the young teacher's life before she ever had a chance to conduct her first class. She'd been hired to teach in Fond du Lac.

She and four friends were out for a reunion evening together. "We had a long history together," one of the four young women survivors of the accident said, "and we should have a had a long future."

But a 28-year-old man with a blood alcohol content of 0.27 percent was speeding in his pick-up truck north on Hwy. 35 when he slammed his vehicle into a car carrying the young teacher and her four friends. The teacher died and her friends were all seriously injured.

The man received a sentence yesterday of 31 years in prison, followed by decades of supervision and probation.

"You're a lifelong project," the judge told the man who had pleaded guilty to homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and other charges.

At the time of the crash, he was on supervised release for involvement in drug-related crimes.

In the moments after the crash, he ran from the scene, leaving the young teacher and her injured friends.

Will his long stay in prison deter others from driving drunk? Maybe. Maybe it will encourage them to pause before having another drink, or to call a cab when they've had one drink too many, or to use a designated driver.

Let's hope so. Let's hope, too, for the very best for the young teacher's grief-stricken parents and her friends as they do their best to carry on without her.

La Crosse Tribune: "Jesse Herrmann sentenced to 31 years in prison in fatal crash," Anne Jungen, Nov. 28, 2011

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