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Victim's mother: Jail time won't stop drunk drivers

A six-year prison sentence likely won't reform a repeat drunken driver found responsible for two deaths nor will it keep society safe, said the first victim's mother.

He's going to drink and drive again, said Connie Buchanan, the Central Point woman whose son was killed 11 years ago when a drunken John Patrick Bush crashed his Jeep. She attended Bush's sentencing hearing Friday in Jackson County Circuit Court.

The Eagle Point resident was convicted Thursday of second-degree manslaughter for the death of 29-year-old Robert Andrew Baker of Butte Falls.

Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Ray White ordered him Friday to spend six years and three months in prison, the mandatory penalty under Oregon's Measure 11 minimum sentencing law.

Baker died April 7, 2003, after Bush flipped his 1970 half-ton Ford pickup truck against an embankment alongside Butte Falls Highway. Both men had been drinking that night. Bush's defense attorney Bob Abel argued that his client wasn't driving.

— After hearing three days of testimony, jurors in a unanimous verdict convicted Bush of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and driving under the influence. They deliberated just 30 minutes.

The case was d?j? vu for Buchanan and her husband, Don. Their 21-year-old son, David, was killed in 1994 when Bush's Jeep crashed on Obenchain Road. As in Baker's death, Bush was intoxicated at the time of that crash.

When we had read in the paper that John had been in another drinking and driving crash, it was like getting kicked in the stomach all over again, Buchanan told the court. We have an obligation as a community to keep John Bush off the road.

Bush didn't show any emotion as Buchanan told him how disappointed she was that he didn't learn his lesson the first time. In her son's case, Bush served probation after pleading guilty to DUII. A manslaughter charge was dismissed after Buchanan wrote a letter to the court asking that Bush be given a second chance.

Buchanan said she didn't expect any reaction out of Bush. He showed no remorse after her son's death, either, she said. Baker's step-father, Leon Todd, of Butte Falls, said Bush just isn't the type to exhibit emotion. Bush declined to comment when the judge asked if he wanted to speak before hearing his sentence.

White admonished Bush for how blatant his drinking and driving has been.

It's amazing ... when we see people who had prior manslaughter cases ... and they continued to drink and drive, White said, adding that Bush's deadly track record is the first he's seen as a judge.

Bush's prior manslaughter charge had no effect on the length of Friday's sentence because he wasn't convicted. Although Bush did have a prior DUII conviction, White legally couldn't have imposed more time in the current case because drinking and driving and manslaughter are part of the same criminal act, said Allan Smith, deputy district attorney for Jackson County.

Bush's driver's license will be suspended for eight years upon his release from prison. He also must pay restitution to Baker's family.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail