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Tragedies should teach lessons

It's not yet clear whether two preventable deaths have done that

A new law stiffening penalties for fatal drunken-driving incidents came too late to offer any comfort to Bobby Baker's family.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed Senate Bill 421 last week; it takes effect Jan. 1. Baker died April 7 in a pickup driven by his friend John Patrick Bush. Bush's blood alcohol content was .296 percent ' more than three times the legal limit ' three hours after the crash.

What makes Baker's death all the more tragic is that it was the second time Bush was involved in a drunken-driving crash that killed a passenger. In 1994, he walked away with a drunken driving conviction and no jail time.

It is not our intention to second-guess prosecutors' actions in 1994. Criminal cases are complex, and the evidence against Bush was sketchy.

Not this time. The level of alcohol in his body was measured with a hospital blood test, not a Breathalyzer. Witnesses saw Bush drinking in a tavern hours before the accident, and e

mpty and unopened beer cans were found at the scene of the crash.

— A grand jury indicted Bush Thursday on second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. Second-degree manslaughter is a Measure 11 crime, and carries a prison sentence of six years and three months; criminally negligent homicide carries a lesser sentence.

Some might have preferred a charge of first-degree manslaughter, which could put Bush in prison for 10 years. But the grand jury couldn't agree that Bush's actions constituted extreme indifference to human life.

Sometimes it's hard for those affected by senseless deaths to understand why the law does not hand out tougher penalties in cases that appear to cry out for firm justice. But we're not inclined to second-guess the grand jurors in this case either. They are performing an important and difficult job and they do it to the best of their abilities.

What we find hardest to understand is the reaction of friends and neighbors in the close-knit community of Butte Falls, where both accidents occurred.

Bush has reportedly been seen driving around town since the crash, although he cannot do so legally for another year. This apparently has raised no alarm. And after Baker's funeral, young people reportedly went to buy cases of beer.

These are indications that community attitudes toward drinking and driving have not changed in the aftermath of this second tragedy. Unless they do, tragedy will strike again.

A matter of time

Despite the Earth Liberation Front's pledge not to take human lives in its campaign of arsons, it's only a matter of time before someone is injured or killed. That's even more likely now that ELF has shifted its focus from remote properties to the suburbs.

The radical group that started in the Pacific Northwest is the FBI's No. — domestic terrorism priority. It has done more than &

36;100 million in damage ' but cause no deaths ' since it split off from the radical environmental group Earth First! and surfaced in the U.S. five years ago.

This summer, arsons in Southern California turned six-figure luxury homes under construction into charred wood, destroyed an unfinished 206-unit apartment complex and firebombed new Hummers. The FBI called the apartment complex fire the single largest act of property destruction ever committed by one of these groups in the history of the country.

Make no mistake. These people are not environmentalists. They are terrorists who give true environmentalism a bad name. And they must be stopped.