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Editorials represent the institutional view of the newspaper. They are written and edited by the editorial staff, which operates separately from the news department. Editorial writers are not involved in newsroom operations.

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Editorial: Samantha Miller's tragic death holds lessons for SC lawmakers, individuals

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Friends gathered on Folly Beach earlier this month for a vigil honoring Samantha Miller, who was killed by a drunken driver after she and her husband left their wedding reception. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

There’s no question that Jamie Lee Komoroski is responsible for the tragic death of Samantha Miller just hours after the young woman's wedding last month on Folly Beach. If her blood-alcohol test of 0.26% and admission that she was driving the car that plowed into the newlyweds’ low-speed vehicle weren’t enough to convince us, her own words from jail convict her.

As The Post and Courier’s Glenn Smith and Ema Rose Schumer report based on video and audio recordings obtained under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, Ms. Komoroski acknowledges she’s responsible; she just doesn’t think she should be punished for what she calls an accident.

Of course, this was no accident. As Mothers Against Drunk Driving has argued for years, there’s nothing accidental about drinking to excess, getting behind the wheel and killing someone. It’s a crime. There also may be secondary criminals who sold or otherwise provided alcohol to an already-inebriated Ms. Komoroski in violation of state law, as Aric Hutchinson argues in a lawsuit filed against several bars he says the driver visited before killing his bride and injuring him.

South Carolina has more of these types of crimes than most states because our lawmakers have for too long allowed criminal defense attorneys to warp our laws so they protect drunken drivers, with little regard to what we usually refer to by the impersonal, unemotional term of "public safety."

Maybe we would care more if we called the results of these laws by name. In this case, Samantha Miller: Our law didn’t work to prioritize the life of Samantha Miller over the convenience and alleged “rights” of drunken drivers.

The Legislature did pass a law earlier this month that will require more people convicted of driving under the influence to have a device placed on their vehicles that makes it impossible to start the ignition if it detects alcohol in their bodies.

Although the new ignition interlock law will be a big improvement over current law, it still won’t be as tough as it should be. Even a tougher law wouldn’t have saved Ms. Miller, because Ms. Komoroski apparently didn’t have a previous DUI. The difficulty in getting a significant interlock law passed is a reflection of the same mindset that allows a drunken driver to believe it’s unfair that she would be punished for killing anyone, since it wasn’t her intention to kill anyone.

While a conviction and even a successful lawsuit will no doubt offer some sense of justice to the bride’s widowed husband and her many grieving friends and family, it won’t make up for their loss. Which brings us to a painful reminder that we would urge others to take to heart.

In matters large and small, it’s almost always better to be alive and healthy than to be right.

Ms. Miller and Mr. Hutchinson were right to believe that state law allowed them to be driven away from their wedding reception in a less-unsafe version of a golf cart called a low-speed vehicle, which comes with the lights, advanced breaking systems and seat belts that are not standard on golf carts. They were right to believe it was illegal for anyone to drive 65 miles per hour in the 25-mph zone where the collision occurred. They were right to believe it was illegal for someone to be out driving in their path when she was so drunk that she thought she was on her way home when in fact she was headed in the opposite direction.

Yet none of that will bring Ms. Miller back.

The fact is that low-speed vehicles, golf carts, bicycles, mopeds and, yes, motorcycles provide a lot less protection than cars and trucks, with their shoulder belts and airbags and tons of metal between you and oncoming traffic. That’s particularly true at night — both because visibility decreases after dark and because the chances of coming into contact with a drunken driver increases, dramatically.

Stripping out alcohol-friendly loopholes and in other ways bringing South Carolina’s DUI law up to par with those in other states would be a fitting way for our Legislature to pay tribute to Samantha Miller’s too-short life. Acting more defensively to protect ourselves and our loved ones against the many drunken drivers on our roads would be a wise way for the rest of us to pay tribute — and to reduce the number of other such tragedies.

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