According to Janklow, he deserves a prison sentence

Every so often, media coverage of a particular news item is so bad that it inadvertently exposes certain malignant truths about society.

The case of U.S. Rep. Bill Janklow, R-S.D., currently on trial for manslaughter, is a particularly trenchant example. The Janklow case is important because it illustrates the degree to which Americans – even those with allegedly conservative values – refuse to accept responsibility for their own actions.

Last August, Janklow, a pathologically reckless driver who often bragged openly about his disregard for traffic laws, blew through a stop sign at a rural South Dakota intersection and collided with motorcyclist Randy Scott of Hardwick, Minn. Scott, a 55-year- old Vietnam veteran, volunteer firefighter and father of two, was killed instantly. His disemboweled body was found in a nearby field.

Janklow, who was doing 71 mph in a 55 mph zone, has an unbelievably bad driving record. Between 1990 and 1994 he received 12 speeding tickets, and although he has not been ticketed since, he has had three accidents in the last 10 years as well as numerous close calls with other drivers who came forth in droves to tell their stories after Scott’s death.

Despite the overwhelming evidence against him, Janklow, ever the politician, had an excuse ready to explain everything.

It seems that Mr. Janklow is a diabetic. He claims that on the day of the crash he was suffering from a reaction to low blood sugar that affected his judgment and caused him to behave so stupidly.

Janklow’s lawyers have opted for the Coca-Cola defense: They cite a paramedic’s testimony that Janklow asked for candy and a soda after the accident as evidence that he was suffering from hypoglycemia. Or maybe the man just likes Coke.

The media, for its part, has been utterly complacent in propagating this ludicrous theory. Reporters zeroed in on the blood sugar issue like it was O.J.’s bloody glove redux, and the essential lameness of Janklow’s excuse has been lost in a flood of minutiae concerning what Janklow did or did not eat during the course of the day that he killed Scott.

The big question no one in the media – and apparently no one in the courtroom – is asking is this: Even if Janklow did have a diabetic reaction, does that absolve him of guilt?

I don’t have diabetes, but the people I know who do, know how to take care of themselves. I would think that Janklow, a lifelong diabetic, would understand the hazards of driving around with low blood sugar.

Moreover, does Janklow’s diabetes explain his other numerous accidents and speeding tickets?

One woman, Jennifer Walters, testified that Janklow nearly hit her pickup truck a year ago when he ran a stop sign at the same intersection where Scott was later killed. Was Janklow having a diabetic reaction the day he nearly killed Walters as well?

I don’t buy the diabetes defense, but even if it were true it wouldn’t lessen the severity of the crime. We have all been busted at one time or another for doing things that didn’t seem like a big deal but were still illegal. When someone decides to break the speed limit, smoke pot or drive home a little tipsy, that person is taking a calculated risk based on the probability of getting into an accident of being pulled over by a cop.

Taking those calculated risks is fine, and we all do it, but it’s still breaking the law and when you’re busted, you’re busted.

In Janklow’s case, that he routinely engaged in lawbreaking is made worse by the fact that he did it with such casual recklessness. We all have our bad days when we make mistakes on the road, but few of us exhibit the abject disregard for the safety of others that Janklow did over the decades.

Janklow spent years gambling with the lives of innocent people. That he would eventually kill someone was inevitable. Now he’s finally done it, and the man who was once an arch-conservative has tucked his tail between his legs and cashed his check as a bleeding heart liberal who refuses to own up to his crime.

What should be done with Bill Janklow? Janklow himself might have the solution. When he was governor of South Dakota, Janklow made the case for increasing jail sentences for drug dealers with the rationale:

“Bill Janklow speeds when he drives. He shouldn’t, but he does. And when he gets a ticket, he pays it. If someone told me I was going to jail for two days for speeding, my driving habits would change. I can pay the ticket, but I don’t want to go to jail. It’s that simple.”

Thank you, Mr. Janklow. It is that simple. Dangerous men like you need to be behind bars to deter other dangerous men.

Nick Busse is a columnist. He welcomes comments at [email protected]