A 70-year-old Seattle man is facing his 17th DUI case.
Dwight David Benson was charged this month in King County Superior Court with felony DUI, driving without a court-ordered ignition-interlock device, driving with a suspended or revoked license, and reckless driving.
He has been convicted of felony DUI once before, after a 2011 crash. His other prior DUI convictions were gross misdemeanors, per Washington state law.
Court documents allege that Benson was near 52nd Avenue South and South Orcas Street just after midnight April 16 when his Chevrolet Corvette crossed the centerline, striking an oncoming Toyota Camry.
Neither driver was seriously injured but both cars were severely damaged, according to court documents.
Seattle police responding to the crash said Benson appeared intoxicated, refused to take a field-sobriety test and admitted to drinking alcohol.
When asked how much he’d had to drink, he first replied, “Not enough,” and then said, “Too much,” according to the police report.
Prosecutors asked that bail be set at $1 million.
Senior deputy prosecuting attorney Amy Freedheim wrote in charging documents that Benson is “incredibly dangerous to the community,” habitually drives while impaired when he’s not in custody and has failed to appear in court 50 times since 1985.
“He refuses to follow orders by the courts or Department of Licensing. He drives without an (ignition interlock device) and without any valid license or liability insurance,” she wrote. “… Several of his DUI crimes involve collisions. The community remains unsafe. He does not care.”
According to a preliminary check by the prosecutor’s office when charges were filed this month, Benson’s criminal history includes these charges:
- DUI: October 1984
- Negligent driving (amended from DUI): October 1986
- DUI: May 1989
- Negligent driving (amended from DUI): June 1989
- DUI: February 1991
- Reckless driving (amended from DUI): October 1991
- Negligent driving (amended from DUI): August 1992
- DUI: December 1992
- Reckless driving (amended from DUI): August 1994
- DUI: November 1995
- DUI: December 1998
- DUI: September 2006
- Physical control of a vehicle while under the influence: August 11, 2007
- DUI: August 22, 2007
- DUI: September 2009
- Felony DUI, reckless driving, driving with a suspended license: 2011
Benson and his family are “aware of his alcoholism,” Freedheim wrote.
Before 2007, a drunken driver could not be charged with a felony in Washington state unless the driver caused a death or injury. That year, legislators passed a law allowing prosecutors to charge drivers with a Class C felony in cases where the driver had had five DUI convictions in 10 years.
In 2012, tougher vehicular-homicide sentencing laws went into effect, increasing the standard sentencing range from 31-41 months to 78-102 months, equal to the range for first-degree manslaughter.
In 2013, Mark Mullan, who had then least five impaired driving arrests, plowed into a family out for a walk in Seattle, killing Judy Schulte, 68, and Dennis Schulte, 66, and severely injuring Karina Ulriksen-Schulte and her infant son.
Outrage over the Mullan case helped propel lawmakers in 2016 to again alter the law, this time making it a Class B felony to drink and drive if the driver had had at least four prior DUI convictions over the last 10 years, according to Shelly Baldwin, a spokeswoman for the Washington Traffic Safety Council.
Now the state is wrestling with how to protect the public from chronic drunken-driving offenders, weighing a bill that would extend the “look back” window to 15 years.
House Bill 1504 passed the House and Senate, but was sent back to the House with amendments, Baldwin said. The House did not approve the bill, in part, she said, because of disagreement over funding for enforcement.
Benson, who is being held on $1 million bail, is scheduled for arraignment in King County Superior Court on May 2.
Editor’s note: Court documents stated that this month’s charges stemmed from Benson’s 13th DUI arrest. This story was updated Thursday afternoon to more fully reflect Benson’s criminal history, which includes 16 prior DUI cases.