Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Fontana man awaits jury trial on 10th OWI

by Rob Ireland

February 02, 2012

ELKHORN — Sometimes, when a multiple time drunken driving offender appears before a judge, the number of prior convictions is just a ballpark figure.

This problem is highlighted in a case against a Fontana man, who initially was charged with his sixth-offense drunken driving, but, after some searching, prosecutors increased that number to 10.

In March, Gary J. Harrast, 317 Bayview Ave., is set to face a jury on two felony charges, operating with a prohibited alcohol content and drunken driving, each as 10th offenses.

Harrast faces up to 12-1/2 years imprisonment and a $25,000 fine for each felony count. He also faces a minimum sentence of four years imprisonment for each charge.

For his last drunken driving conviction, Harrast received a five-year probation sentence. At the time, prosecutors were unaware Harrast allegedly had eight prior convictions, and instead treated the case as a fifth offense.

Walworth County District Attorney Phil Koss said it can be difficult for law enforcement to determine an accurate number of prior offenses. Part of the problem is that convictions aren’t always properly reported and retrieving records from out of state can be problematic.

“I think it happens more than I want to think about statewide,” Koss said.

However, it doesn’t occur as frequently when the drunken driver has a lot of prior convictions.

“It is more common that there is a first or second that should be a third or fourth,” he said.

Koss said his office just received a felony case, which is more than four convictions, where the defendant’s last arrest was treated as a first offense.

When the first complaint against Harrast was filed, the court records indicated he had prior convictions on March 5, 1991; Sept. 14, 1992; Oct. 30, 1992; Feb. 7, 2000 and Jan. 13, 2002. Later, in an amended complaint, prosecutors state Harrast was also convicted of drunken driving on April 15, 1995; April 18, 1995; June 21, 1996 and Aug. 18, 1996.

According to court records in the Harrast case:

On June 11, at about 2:30 a.m., Linn Township Police Officer Ryan Halstad stopped Harrast’s vehicle on Linton Road near the intersection of Academy Road.

Prior to the traffic stop, Halstad ran the plates on the vehicle, which came back as belonging to Harrast, whose driver’s license was revoked.

During the stop, Harrast told Halstad he had three beers about three hours ago.

Halstad performed several field sobriety tests on Harrast and arrested him for drunken driving. Halstad blew on a portable Breathalyzer test, which came back with a result of 0.12. The legal limit is 0.08 for first-time offenders and 0.02 for multiple-time offenders.