2 drunken drivers get very different punisments

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Though years apart, both Ronald O'Kelly and Luis Solano-Barrera pleaded guilty in a Jackson County courtroom to the same crime of involuntary manslaughter. They both took lives while driving drunk.

In an awful twist of fate, all three of those lives taken came from the same family. The biggest difference comes in the punishment. O'Kelly now faces a maximum of 120 days in jail while Solano-Barrera faced 15 years.

The news devastated the family of victim LeRoy "Buddy" Bronson even more. "With him admitting it, 120 days just doesn't seem right," said son Tyler Russell.

And it infuriated Avis Lowe.

"120 days is like a kick in the teeth," she said.

As a member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, she has spent years working with the family through both tragic crashes. She wants the laws changed. "That 120 days needs to go," she said.

Over the years and including Thursday, she sat with the family in closed-door meetings with prosecutors and understands why prosecutors cut a deal.

"They didn't think that they would be able to take it to trial and prove it without a doubt," she said.

Attorney Chris Kopecky isn't surprised to hear that. "If the prosecutor has a good, strong, solid case, then they are very unlikely to take a 120-day deal." He represents several clients facing drunken driving charges, which can be greatly complicated when they flee the scene.

"Usually punishment can be more severe," he said.

But in O'Kelly's case?

"He left the scene so that made it hard, too," said Lowe.

O'Kelly also admitted leaving the scene in court. Luis Solano-Barrera did not.

"They could prove that he was in that car," said Lowe of the police who came to the scene. Police also had several 911 calls from before the crash telling them his car was driving the wrong way. "They had his blood alcohol, they had the evidence," said Lowe of Solano-Barrera.

Now what's left of the Bronson family will try to move on.  

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