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Victims' families speak out for drugged driving awareness

Mark Hicks , USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee Published 6:02 p.m. CT March 22, 2017 | Updated 6:41 p.m. CT March 22, 2017

Family of victims in 2015 triple fatality wreck help kickoff new “Stop Drugged Driving” campaign

                                                                                                      (Photo: Mark Hicks/USA Today-Tennessee)

Joey Leonard paused to control his emotions before he was able to say the name of his 12-day-old granddaughter, Kimberlynn Dawn Griggs, who died along with her parents in a horrific 2015 car crash caused by a drugged driver.

“We want to be a voice for our family members who can’t speak for themselves anymore,” David Leonard told a small crowd outside Legislative Tower Wednesday. “We hope no one else has to suffer the tragedies we’ve faced.”

Leonard and his wife, Tammy, traveled to Nashville from their home in Waverly to help kickoff the Tennessee Highway Safety Office’s new “Stop Drugged Driving” campaign to combat drug-impaired driving fatalities across the state.

Kassidy Leonard was their 19-year-old daughter, who Joey Leonard described as “big-hearted” and “hard-headed.” She and her boyfriend, William Griggs, 20, had decided to get their lives on track after she became pregnant with Kimberlynn, her father said.

Griggs was about to start a third job the night all three were killed.

Joey Leonard paused several times as he explained that the couple dropped off Kassidy's young son, Bradley, to stay with them overnight as they were heading out of town to introduce Kimberlynn to relatives.

"Kassidy, in a moment of grown-up clarity, said (she was leaving her son with them) because we are going to be really late and Bradley has school in the morning," her father said.

On March 7, a jury found Benjamin Franklin, 38, of New Johnsonville, guilty of three counts of vehicular homicide by driver intoxication and three counts of vehicular homicide by reckless driving.

Franklin, who tested positive for Oxycontin, methamphetamine and amphetamine, was three feet in the oncoming lane on a straight portion of roadway when the crash happened.

Joey Leonard said Franklin has a 17-year criminal history in several states.

"He was an habitual offender with no regard for the law and no remorse for his actions," he said.

Seeking changes

Leonard said he wants to tell his family's story anywhere people will listen in order to bring awareness to the issue. And he is helping advocate for new laws regarding drugged drivers.

The prosecutor in Franklin's case, 23rd Judicial District Attorney Ray Crouch, has drafted legislation with Leonard and others to establish a drugged driving law.

"The proposal would be to have a per se drugged driving law, where if you were driving and you injured or killed someone and your blood contained a narcotic or prescription medication that you did not have a prescription for, that you could be charged 'per se' with DUI," he said, adding that DUI is one of the elements of a vehicular homicide.

"I expect there is going to be a huge push back from the pharmaceutical lobby because it would be the first time the use of a prescription medication has been directly criminalized," Crouch said following the kickoff event. "But the reason they shouldn’t push back is because it would only affect those who do not have a prescription." If you have a prescription and are complying."

Drugged driving

Tennessee Highway Patrol Col. Tracy Trott said drugged driving has become the state’s number one enforcement priority and pledged to do everything possible to keep them off the roadways.

“We work hard everyday to keep these (tragedies) from happening, but unfortunately we’re not always successful," he said.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Deputy Director Jason Locke added that alcohol-related traffic offenses were down 1 percent in 2015 and 7 percent in 2016, but drugged driving cases are up a total of 36 percent over the past two years.

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