DWI Crackdown: Multiple Offender Thomas Swaggart

By Lee Peck - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - 48-year-old Thomas Swaggart is no stranger to law enforcement. He's been arrested a total of six times for DWI.

"There are some people who are not going to learn the easy way and for those people we've got to put them in jail," said Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier.

Troubles started for Swaggart back in 1985 when he got his first DWI in Sulphur. Court records show he would plead guilty to careless operation.

Then 7 years later he was convicted of vehicular homicide in the death of Betsy Ennis of Sulphur near Holly Beach. He would serve some time in jail before being let back out on the streets.

Then on the morning of December 10, 1995 Swaggart is stopped again. This time in St. John Parish - going 87 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone. Records show his blood alcohol level was 0.2 - which is way beyond the legal limit.

Swaggart told 7 News at the time that he had slipped and was glad he got caught. He also acknowledged he had a problem and was getting help and said he had given up drinking.

It's not clear how long he stayed off the bottle, but on April 4, 2005 - Swaggart was definitely drinking and driving again. According to the report, Swaggart told the officer who stopped him he had just been to a crawfish boil and had been drinking.

April of the following year would also not be a good year for Swaggart - he was stopped twice for DWI - once on April 1st and on April 28th by the same state trooper.

With more than three years of delays those two cases from April 2006 are still pending, but Swaggart's sister, Stacie Swaggart Retzlaff, says he's changed his ways. Even writing a letter to the courts on behalf of her brother:

Retzlaff says, "I don't approve of what my brother did and neither does he. I'm a pleading with you, however, to find other means than jail for him to pay his crime. With our prisons so over crowded, would there be any way possible that our judicial system consider my brother's punishment by way of home incarceration and wearing an ankle monitor?"

Retzlaff goes on to say, "I humbly ask you to consider this when Tommy appears before you. I know that I am stepping out on a limb by asking such a huge favor. Locking him behind bars could not possibly benefit him or our state. I know with all my heart, Tommy does not belong there."

"If we have a defendant who is at home incarcerated on house arrest so to speak, for DWI because of consumption of alcoholic beverages what do you think that individual is going to be doing the whole time he is court-ordered to be incarcerated in his home - when he is not at work? -- He is going to be drinking," said DeRosier, "There comes a point in time when there is only one treatment for multiple DWI offenders and that is putting them in jail."

DeRosier says part of the problem is a statute that recommends for judges to reduce sentences for third and fourth time offenders to 30-to-45 days. He and others are set to go before the state legislature to get that part of the statute amended.

Thomas Swaggart is scheduled to be back in court to face these charges on January 28, 2010.

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