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Judge gives max sentence for 12th OWI

Schneider (click for larger version)
March 25, 2014 | 01:50 PM
ELKHORN — A repeat drunken driving offender told Judge David Reddy that he doesn’t know how to “drive sober,” and that his previous drunken driving convictions occurred late at night when other drivers were off the road.

During an often rambling allocution, Fred J. Schneider, 71, Zion, Ill., told Reddy that “I didn’t feel drunk, but I was in the eyes of the law.”

On March 20, Reddy said that sending Schneider to prison was necessary to protect the public.

“This is an extremely aggravated case. The court can only image how many times he has been out driving drunk and not been caught,” Reddy said.

Reddy sentenced Schneider to the maximum on the drunken driving charge, which is 7 1/2 years imprisonment and five years of extended supervision.

He also sentenced him to one year in jail for operating after revocation. Schneider’s total sentence includes 8 1/2 years of initial confinement. He was also fined $6,400.

Long-time Assistant District Attorney Diane Donohoo told Reddy that she believes Schneider has more previous drunken driving convictions than any defendant she has ever prosecuted. She asked for the maximum sentence.

“It is nothing short of a miracle that he hasn’t killed anybody,” Donohoo said.

During an interview with the state Department of Corrections, Schneider told a probation agent that he wasn’t intoxicated during his past drunken driving arrests because his tolerance to alcohol is so high.

During the sentencing hearing, Donohoo read a statement that Schneider allegedly made to the writer of a presentence investigation.

“I’ve had a lot of OWIs, but I was never drunk, but they said I was,” Donohoo said while quoting Schneider.

Schneider’s attorney, Melissa Nepomiachi, asked the judge to consider that Schneider is “an older adult with a lot of health issues.”

“A sentence of several years, such as the maximum sentence, is a life sentence,” Nepomiachi said.

She added that she and her client have serious concerns over how the department of corrections will provide health care.

Nepomiachi said that Reddy wasn’t obligated to give Schneider the minimum sentence of four years, but could sentence her client to probation.

Before announcing his sentence, Reddy read Schneider’s criminal record, which includes criminal convictions that date back decades and range from drunken driving, to trespassing to theft.

Schneider has had his probation revoked a number of times, and he has been incarcerated in multiple states.

Nepomiachi said Schneider has never served a lengthy sentence, and the minimum in this case would be significantly more than any of Schneider’s past sentences.

“The fact that he has slipped through the cracks in the past is of no concern to the court,” Reddy said.

Unusual allocution

During sentencing hearings, defendants are given a right to allocution, which is when they are allowed to address the court.

Schneider told Reddy that his drunken driving convictions began to pile up after his divorce, which occurred more than 30 years ago.

He said he would stay out late at bars, would drink all night and drive home.

He said at those times he was over the legal limit, but not necessarily drunk.

“I just don’t know how to drive sober in the eyes of the law,” Schneider said.

After the hearing, Nepomiachi said she believes her client meant to say that he does know how to drive sober.

However, she wasn’t able to speak with him about his comments.

The arrest

In August 2012, Schneider was arrested at PFI Fashions in Genoa City.

He showed up to the business, shirtless and asked to use a restroom.

Employees at the business called police because they suspected Schneider was intoxicated.

While waiting for police, a manager distracted Schneider by showing him shirts and the manager gave Schneider a shirt to wear.

Schneider attempted to pay for the shirt with playing cards he had in his wallet.

When Genoa City Police Sgt. Mike Sireno arrived, Schneider told him he believed he was in Winthrop Harbor, Ill., which is about 30 miles east of Genoa City. Schneider became agitated by police questions.

He told police that his girlfriend had driven him to PFI Fashions, and she left in a taxi.

However, an employee saw Schneider pull up to the store and exit the vehicle by himself.

The first record check police ran showed that Schneider had six prior drunken driving convictions. At the Walworth County jail, another OWI was discovered on his record.

By the time charges were filed, law enforcement found one more drunken driving conviction and he was charged with his ninth-offense.

In January, prosecutors amended the charge to 12th offense drunken driving after three additional convictions were discovered.

Schneider’s 11 prior convictions are for offenses that occurred March 1, 1991; May 8, 1991; Sept. 14, 1994; Oct. 21, 1994; Jan. 24, 1996; Feb. 4, 1997; Feb. 4, 1998; March 26, 1999; April 2, 1999; Nov. 5, 2000 and March 3, 2001.

Four of the prior convictions were for offenses that occurred in Wisconsin, two are from Illinois and five are from Minnesota.

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