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Persistent drunken driver sentenced to prison

John Smith III was often unable to keep himself from getting behind the steering wheel of a car, intoxicated and without a driver's license.

After five drunken driving convictions, he's going somewhere where he's not a danger to others on the road.

Monday, Smith, 29, was sentenced by State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia to two to six years in state prison and 1 1/3 to 4 years for aggravated unlicensed driving. The two felony sentences will run concurrently.

"This seems to me to be an appropriate and good sentence, given his history," said Deputy District Attorney Lawrence M. Schwegler. "As the probation officer pointed out, he's a danger to the community. I hope he goes somewhere and dries out."

A state spokeswoman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving said she hopes other measures would be put in place for Smith upon his release to help prevent a sixth conviction.

"MADD is very much in favor of stricter penalties for repeat [drunken] drivers. We would also recommend upon his release that he be assigned an ignition interlock in his car to ensure continued sobriety when driving on our roads," said Donna Kopec, executive director of MADD New York State.

A jury on May 10 convicted Smith, of Pershing Street, of driving while intoxicated. He faced a possible seven years in prison. Bail was denied by Buscaglia after Smith's latest alcohol-related conviction.

During the trial, Buffalo Police Officer Gregg O'Shei testified Smith was behind the steering wheel in a car idling in the middle of Goodyear Avenue near Broadway shortly before 1 a.m. Aug. 12, 2006. He was arrested after failing several field sobriety tests.

Later, Officer Mary Ellen Sawicki testified Smith refused to take a Breathalyzer test at Police Headquarters.

According to court records, Smith had a 1998 drug conviction and convictions for drunken driving and related unlicensed driving in Buffalo in 1999, 2001 and twice in 2004.


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