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Drunken driver: Six arrests and still on the road, people question ‘why?’

By: Melissa Gundersen
EL PASO, Texas -- An El Paso man convicted multiple times of driving drunk is back on the streets and many people question why. Police said this is the sixth time they've arrested this same driver for DWI.

At just 29 years old Rodrigo Melendez has only been legally drinking for eight years. He already has a heavy record.

Along with multiple outstanding traffic warrants, Melendez has five previous DWI convictions.

He was first arrested and pleaded guilty to DWI back in 2004. In 2007, he was arrested twice and pleaded guilty once. He was arrested and pleaded guilty to DWI again in 2008. Melendez was then arrested for DWI again in 2009. Then there's the DWI arrest from this weekend.

As far as the most recent incident, police said they found Melendez asleep in his car, which was in the middle of an east El Paso Whataburger drive-through.

Melendez has suffered some consequences for his actions. By his third guilty plea Melendez was sentenced to two years in prison.

KFOX14 went to the home police have listed for Melendez, but it turns out it's his mother's address. She didn't want to comment.

State Rep. Joe Pickett said there's not much more legislators can do to prevent people from driving drunk.

"Even if there were more changes it wouldn't stop somebody from driving without a license unless they're actually in jail," said Pickett.

Pickett said how long a person is put in jail is up to a judge. As the Texas law states, once a person is convicted of their third DWI, they can be sentenced anywhere from two to 10 years in prison. Melendez was sentenced to the lowest end of the stick at two years.

"Some prosecutors are tougher than others; some judges are tougher about it. Even within our own communities depending on what court they go to," said Pickett.

Pickett said he's personally spoken to some judges about the issue.

"I talked to a judge not too long ago. He just brought it up he said his big deal is he doesn't give out occupational drivers licenses. His personal opinion is he doesn't issue occupational drivers licenses. Other judges do," said Pickett.

District attorney Jaime Esparza said his office cracks down on repeat offenders harder every year. Within the past two years, he said they've been able to convict more drunken drivers because El Paso is now considered a "no tolerance" city.

"If you won't give us your breath then we'll get a blood search warrant. We'll get a blood search warrant so that we can draw your blood and then determine what your alcohol level is. I think it's one other way for law enforcement and this office to be more aggressive in DWI," said Esparza.

This is something El Paso police previously did around the holidays, but now police and the Sheriff's Department can obtain these warrants every day of the year.

It doesn't end there. El Paso judges can also sentence a repeat DWI offender to using an interlock system in their car.

"It really requires the offender to blow into the interlock system in order to operate their vehicle. If they blow into in and they're intoxicated they can't operate their vehicle. If they blow in and they are not intoxicated then they can operate the vehicle," said Esparza.

The interlock system also takes a picture of the person blowing into the system.

"So that we make sure that the person we have ordered to do that is doing it and somebody that maybe didn't have a beer or two," said Esparza.

Pickett said Texas is looked at as strict state in terms of DWI.


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