Tragic wreck has Mo. prosecutors vowing to do more -

Tragic wreck has Mo. prosecutors vowing to do more

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Jackson County prosecutors pledged to do more to keep unlicensed drivers behind bars after a man driving without a valid license allegedly caused a crash that killed a child.

Clayton R. Dunlap was charged last week with second-degree murder and driving on a revoked license in a Kansas City crash that killed 12-year-old Damian Slayton.

Dunlap spent several days in jail a few weeks earlier after he allegedly led police on a chase while high in PCP. His record includes 16 convictions for driving without a valid license.

Court spokeswoman Mary Jacobi told The Kansas City Star for a story published Saturday that the 16th Judicial Circuit Court is examining how bonds are set in driving-while-revoked cases.

And Kansas City police said they are looking forward to starting a program in May to catch more drivers with revoked licenses at checkpoints.

Still, residents and police are frustrated.

"There is no deterrent now," said Police Sgt. Danny Graves. "There is nothing. We've got to have harsher penalties."

The Star reported that Dunlap apparently fell through the cracks of the clogged Jackson County legal system, where prosecutors and judges don't always have time to fully research the background of those caught driving with revoked licenses.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar has said he plans to talk to police about how to improve communication to identify dangerous drivers before they kill people.

Since taking office in 2007, Kanatzar has sought to prosecute more cases of motorists with revoked licenses at the state level instead of in city court, because drivers with two misdemeanor state convictions can be charged with a felony on a third offense.

All of Dunlap's convictions for unlicensed driving were handled in city court until 2007, even though he could have faced state charges as early as 2002. Police and prosecutors don't know why most of the cases were handled at the municipal level.

In 2007, Dunlap was convicted of his first state misdemeanor and served 30 days in jail.

The next year, he racked up three charges for driving on a revoked license within about three months. Dunlap received a suspended sentence for the three misdemeanors. Those were his 14th, 15th and 16th convictions for driving while unlicensed or on a revoked or suspended license.

His next case would have been a felony charge.

The problem is not a new one. The Kansas City Star studied Kansas City's fatal crashes in 2006 and found that improperly licensed drivers were involved in a third of the city's fatal wrecks.

Police applied for a grant last year to crack down on unlicensed drivers. Graves, who leads the traffic investigations squad, has staged stings at courthouses to catch unlicensed drivers as they drive away from their court appearances. He also is planning six driver's license checkpoints to begin in May. They will be "as big or bigger" than a DUI checkpoint, he said.

"This will be the first time we've done this at such a large scale," he said.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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