Opinion: Hamilton County man finally faces consequences after a fatal car crash and his fourth DUI

Staff Photo by John Rawlston / The slogan "Booze It & Lose It" is seen on a car displayed at a 2015 Tennessee Highway Patrol news conference discussing DUI enforcement with members of the Chattanooga Police Department, Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and Georgia State Patrol.

On Friday, a Hamilton County man made his first appearance in Hamilton County Sessions Court for his fourth DUI and vehicular homicide, among other charges.

According to an affidavit in the case, Colton Drake Clingan, 31, has been convicted of driving under the influence three previous times, in 2011, 2020 and 2022. The report also said he has a "significant drug history."

From what we could find in a limited search, in the past 10 years, he has been arrested by the Soddy-Daisy Police Department, the Chattanooga Police Department and the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office. When he appeared before Judge Larry Ables, it marked at least the fourth judge he's seen over the same time period.

Clingan is the type of defendant who makes average, law-abiding people scratch their heads. They wonder why he isn't already in prison for a significant amount of time. They wonder if the records from one court are seen by judges in another, if evidence is too weak for convictions, and if there are too many plea deals being made.

(READ MORE: Sheriff: Deadly Sale Creek crash was driver’s fourth DUI)

They may also wonder if his probation officers were diligent in keeping up with him, if he had a family member who cared enough to know he had a problem (or did, and was unable to do anything) or if he was another victimizer in the system who fell between the cracks.

The drug charges we found involving Clingan from early 2015 included possession of methamphetamine for resale, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. At the same time, he also was charged with possession of a firearm with a felony conviction and driving on a revoked license.

While he was waiting for the disposition of that case, he was arrested in late 2015 for driving on a revoked, suspended or cancelled license, and for financial responsibility (lack of car insurance).

The second case was adjudicated first in Hamilton County Sessions Court in February 2016. Now retired Judge Clarence Shattuck dismissed the financial responsibility charge, gave Clingan six months in jail on the license charge (suspended based on good behavior), placed him probation and revoked his license for a year.

Later that year, Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman dispensed with the earlier 2015 case by -- according to a plea agreement -- dismissing all but the firearm possession charge, reducing that charge and sentencing him to three years in jail.

We have no idea how long Clingan served, but apparently he was out in time to receive a second DUI that was disposed of in 2020.

That same year, the Chattanooga Police Department arrested him on his third DUI, which wasn't disposed of by Hamilton County Sessions Court Judge Gerald Webb until January 2022, at which time he was given probation, had his license taken away for a year and was sentenced to 11 months and 29 days in jail, which was suspended on good behavior with the condition of attending DUI school.

Tennessee law says a third-time DUI offender could be sentenced to between 120 days (four months) and 11 months, 29 days, be fined a mandatory $1,100 to $10,000, have their license revoked for six years (though a restricted license is available), be subject to vehicle seizure/forfeiture, be made to attend an alcohol and drug treatment program, have an interlock device installed at their expense and continue to use the interlock device for six months after their license is reinstated if they'd had two DUI conviction in five years.

In last week's incident, in which Eduardo Osario was killed when, according to court filings, Clingan's Dodge truck drifted into the other lane on Dayton Pike and caused a head-on collision, Clingan was charged with a seat belt law violation, driver's failure to exercise due care, driving left of center line, driving on a revoked, suspended or cancelled license, ignition interlock violation, aggravated assault, driving under the influence and vehicular homicide.

The accused man, who said he was "messing with his dog" when the accident occurred (though no dog was found at the scene), said he had taken Adderall, per his prescription, and smoked marijuana earlier in the day. His truck was supposed to have an interlock device, which measures a driver's blood alcohol content, but did not. His license also had been suspended.

According to the National Highway Safety Administration, about one-third of all drivers arrested or convicted of drunk driving are repeat offenders. And the agency says drunk driving deaths represented about 30% of all traffic fatalities in 2020. Another online blog notes that for every DUI conviction, the risks of being involved in a fatal car crash increase.

Clingan's first three DUIs barely caused a ripple in the social fabric of the country. The fact that his fourth was associated with a death finally prompted some attention. He will have his days in court, which is his right as an American citizen. But some law enforcement or government agency somewhere, somehow must keep a closer watch on drivers with multiple DUIs, especially if they also have "significant drug" histories.