A Lancaster man -- facing his eighth drunken driving charge in 25 years -- is lucky that his dangerous driving hasn't killed anyone.
That's what prosecutors are saying about James "Jesse" Shaffer, 52, who appeared Tuesday in Lancaster Village Court on charges of misdemeanor driving while intoxicated, imprudent speed, consuming an alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle and refusing a Breathalyzer, all stemming from an Oct. 26 arrest.
During the past quarter-century, he has been convicted four times of driving while intoxicated and has two other convictions for felony aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and misdemeanor driving while ability impaired.
"I wonder how someone who has six prior convictions -- including felony DWI -- has a driver's license," said District Attorney Frank J. Clark. "I don't have anything to do with licensing, but it seems to me that at some point, you should be disqualified from driving.
"We're extraordinarily lucky that he hasn't hurt anyone, including himself," Clark said.
In the Oct. 26 incident, Shaffer triggered a three-car crash while driving with an open alcoholic beverage in his car, according to police.
Shaffer, who lives on Genesee Street, was arraigned before Village Justice Paul T. Bumbalo, who released him on his own recognizance.
Shaffer pleaded not guilty and was ordered to return to court at 9 a.m. Nov. 27.
Prosecutors said the law does not allow his drunken driving convictions from more than 10 years ago to affect his current case.
"He's gotten some really good breaks," Clark said. "I hope this trial goes differently this time."
Under the law, his most recent misdemeanor DWI charge cannot even be upgraded to a felony because he does not have a prior DWI conviction within the past 10 years, according to Clark.
During a 1998 trial, Shaffer was facing a felony aggravated driving while intoxicated charge, but he was only convicted of a reduced charge of misdemeanor driving while ability impaired, prosecutors say. Under the law, Shaffer cannot be facing felony DWI charges this time around because that 1998 drunken driving charge was reduced to a misdemeanor.
Defense attorney Anthony J. Lana said he takes issue with anyone who believes that Shaffer has been given repeated breaks in the criminal-justice system. He said Shaffer is a married father who works in the construction industry.
"He has served the terms of his probation and served some jail time, so he has been sanctioned along the way, and he hasn't just paid fines," Lana said. "He's not by any stretch of the imagination the most egregious offender, and he's not the most alleged offender in Erie County."
Lana also stressed that Shaffer should be presumed innocent and that each of his previous court cases is "separate and should stand on their own merit."
Elizabeth A. Obad, president of the Erie County's Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said if Shaffer is convicted, she would like his sentence to include having an ignition interlock system placed in his vehicle, preventing him from starting the vehicle if he has been drinking alcohol.
"Obviously, he has a history of alcohol abuse," said Obad. "He needs to be closely monitored and supervised. This man needs to be assessed and treated and placing an ignition interlock system into his car will mean that he cannot start the ignition when he's been drinking.