Court Failure Hits Highway Workers

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Last night, according to a report by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Mario Eiland struck three highway workers while driving on Halls Ferry at 270. The report indicates that he was northbound, when he “travelled through a closed roadway construction zone with an emergency vehicle present.” The workers were in the construction zone, and wearing reflective vests and ankle bands. The report also indicates that Mr. Eiland had no insurance. According to a report on Fox 2, Eiland abandoned the vehicle and fled on foot. A search was commenced by the Highway Patrol, St. Louis County Police, and Ferguson PD, and he was caught twenty minutes later. Fox 2 indicates that he faces DWI charges.

On its own, striking three highway workers and fleeing the scene would be noteworthy. But the significance is far greater than that single incident. Eiland is a textbook example of how our courts and police are failing to protect public safety.

In 2019, Eiland was charged with stealing a car, and reckless fleeing. He was given a 3 year suspended sentence in January 2020, failed to appear for a court hearing in February, and had his probation suspended. He was arrested in March, and his probation was reinstated. In February 2021, he was arrested, and probation was suspended due to law and weapons violations. A week later, he was released. Additional probation violations were filed after his release, but no action was taken.

In March 2022, Eiland was stopped by Florissant police. He was issued a summons for operating without license and insurance. He failed to appear for an October court date, and a warrant was issued in May 2023. In April, he was stopped by the Highway Patrol, and was again cited with driving without a license. A hearing was scheduled for September, and court records do not indicate any activity in that case. In December 2022, he was again stopped by Florissant, and cited for driving while revoked or suspended, expired plates, and tailgating. He failed to appear for a June hearing, and a show cause hearing is scheduled for January 2024. In January of this year, he was stopped by the Highway Patrol in St. Charles. He was charged with failing to register a vehicle, driving while revoked or suspended, and a seatbelt violation. He failed to appear for a September court date, and a hold was placed on his license.

Then there’s the civil suit. According to a complaint filed by American Family Insurance, on March 31, 2022, Eiland was driving in the parking lot near Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s, at the northeast corner of Lindbergh and New Halls Ferry, when he crashed into the rear of their insured’s vehicle. They claimed damages of $5,609, and apparently, Eiland did not have insurance. Ordinarily, when you crash into somebody and don’t have insurance, they suspend your license until you pay for the damages. If you are already suspended or revoked, I’m not sure what they can do. As noted previously, Florissant did issue a summons in connection with this incident.

For those of us who are more careful in our compliance, Mr. Eiland has compiled a remarkable record. But what we see in his record is actually commonplace. Three of every four people scheduled to appear in Ferguson Municipal Court do not show up, and there is no consequence. The rate of failure to appear is similar in Florissant, but only 50% in St. Charles. Obviously, what we are doing is not working, and we all pay the price with higher insurance rates, damaged vehicles and homes, and injured bodies.

Ferguson police chief Troy Doyle was interviewed for a news report about a rolling shootout in Jennings last night. According to Doyle, “situations like these can only be avoided if police have the resources to put reckless, repeat offenders behind bars.” In the 2024 budget, Ferguson allocates $5.1 million for the police department – about $575 for every household in the city. More than 90% of that was for salaries and benefits. That seems like enough, and if it isn’t, Chief Doyle should tell us what he would have us cut in order to provide his department with more resources. The reality is, though, no matter how much you spend on police, if the courts do not impose any penalty upon even the most chronic violators, police will remain helpless in providing any degree of public safety.

The sad reality for Mr. Eiland is that he has probably ran out of second chances. When a drunk motorist crashes into highway workers on a closed roadway and then flees the scene, it is difficult to imagine that he will get probation. But it shouldn’t take this level of violating to get something more than a summons and a recognizance bond. Those who are repeatedly charged with offenses such as driving while revoked or failing to carry insurance should face escalating cash bonds with subsequent offenses. This is especially true for the many who rack up offenses and fail to appear in court. Bond is, after all, intended to protect the public and ensure appearance in court. Those who repeatedly put the public at risk through their unsafe conduct are the very people for whom cash bond was intended.