Being picked up for drunk driving in Wisconsin does not mean a night in jail

MILWAUKEE -- Wisconsin remains the only state in the country where getting busted for your first OWI is not a crime. A Kenosha woman found out the hard way Wisconsin is also a place where drunk drivers are getting behind the wheel just hours after being released by police.

Jennifer Kilburn

There are many things in life we take for granted. Jennifer Kilburn of Kenosha knows walking will never be one of them again. The runner and orthopedic nurse found herself on the other side of the table at an Aurora rehab facility after seemingly endless work to get to that point. After more than three months in a wheelchair, Kilburn said she's thankful to be alive.

"So, I don't remember anything. I don't want to remember," Kilburn said.

Jennifer Kilburn

On Aug. 9, 2018, Kenosha police rushed to the scene of a crash.

"I was on my way to work -- and it was just another day," Kilburn said.

Kilburn's vehicle was slammed from the side.

"On impact, it hit my left hip -- and my left thigh bone went through the socket and pushed my internal organs into my left chest cavity," Kilburn said. "My pelvis was shattered into, I don't know how many pieces. They lost count after 20 some."

Jennifer Kilburn

Wreck that seriously injured Jennifer Kilburn

Kilburn was rushed to a hospital.

Jesse Liddell

Jesse Liddell, 25, of Kenosha was questioned by police. Drunk and slurring his speech, Liddell claimed he did nothing wrong.

"This is ridiculous. Now, I'm going to get charged with this (expletive) because she wouldn't wait her turn," Liddell said in the dashcam video.

Witnesses said Liddell ran a red light.

Jesse Liddell in the back of a Kenosha police squad

The biggest surprise -- it was not Liddell's first OWI arrest of the night. Two hours earlier, Pleasant Prairie Officer Jeremiah Gates spotted a vehicle going nearly double the speed limit. Liddell failed his first field sobriety test. Then, just 30 minutes after being released by police in Pleasant Prairie, Liddell was in the back seat of a Kenosha police squad.

Jesse Liddell pulled over for suspected OWI

It turns out, being picked up for drunk driving in Wisconsin does not mean a night in jail.

David Smetana, Pleasant Prairie Police Chief

"Once we gather all that evidence, we try to secure a safe ride home for them," said David Smetana, Pleasant Prairie police chief.

In Wisconsin, police departments allow sober family and friends to pick up first-time OWI suspects, if they agree to sign a form taking over responsibility. That is what happened in July when police arrested 47-year-old Yangchen Sopa for an OWI in Verona. About an hour after being released to her husband, the same officer spotted her driving again.

OWI arrest of Yangchen Sopa

In September, police arrested 35-year-old Shannon McCann of Sun Prairie hours after she was released to a responsible party following her first OWI.

Norma Cavazos, Jesse Liddell's mother

Liddell's mother picked him up. In the fall, she told FOX6 News she tried to hide her son's keys in a pair of pants.

"He got sneaky. Found where I had rolled up the pants and took off on me again," Liddell's mother said.

Law enforcement officials said while these cases represent anomalies,  there may be more of them than you realize.

"I guess we're not sure how many other times an impaired driver leaves with someone that's a responsible individual -- goes home, either gets dropped off at their car, or goes and picks up their car or gets another car and continues their night. We're not sure how times that happens," Chief Smetana said.

Jennifer Kilburn

State Rep. Samantha Kerkman (R-Salem)

After nearly losing her life to a drunk driver, Kilburn said she never though she would be in this position. Her experience attracted the attention of Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem.

"As a Legislature, it frustrates me that we're even hearing talking about this," Kerkman said.

Kerkman is working on a bill that would not allow OWI suspects to be released until they are sober.

"I'm going for a 12-hour hold," Kerkman said.

Wisconsin State Capitol

The idea has gotten support from not just Republicans and Democrats, but also law enforcement.

"I think if that can stop this from happening again, I think it's common sense," Chief Smetana said.

Jennifer Kilburn

Kilburn, once bound to a wheelchair, said her sights were set on one day being able to run again. She said she hopes her most powerful steps ahead help prevent this from ever happening again.

"Since I survived the crash that day, I feel this is a good opportunity to make changes to try to protect other people -- so that they don't get hurt or killed," Kilburn said.

Jennifer Kilburn

In all of the cases FOX6 News reviewed, those "responsible parties" who picked up their family members and promised to keep them off the roads were not charged or fined.

Lawmakers said there is little teeth in the law. They said a "mandatory hold" would solve that issue. They urged you to tell your representatives you support changes.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, Liddell pleaded guilty to a felony charge of injury by intoxicated use of a vehicle. His sentencing is set for March 28.

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