I-Team: Repeat Drunk Driver Drives Without License

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I-Team

BOSTON (CBS) – When people are caught driving drunk over and over again, the state usually cracks down, taking away their license to drive. But what happens if they keep driving anyway?

The I-Team followed one of these repeat drunk drivers and found that for him, having no driver’s license was no problem at all. And you won’t believe where we caught him going.

The driver is James F. Rooney, 49, of Stoughton. He owns the Baseball Tavern, a favorite watering hole near Fenway Park for two generations of Red Sox fans.

Rooney has also been convicted of drunk driving three times and, most recently had his driver’s license suspended until 2016.

But an I-Team investigation has documented — on video — that Rooney has continued to drive, time and time again, without a license. Our cameras were even rolling when he drove from his summer home on Cape Cod to a liquor store, loaded two 12-packs of beer into his convertible Mercedes, and drove away.

“He has had his opportunities and he’s been told you’re a danger, you’re not allowed to get behind the wheel,” said Ron Bersani, whose teenage granddaughter, Melanie Powell, was killed by a repeat drunk driver.

Rooney should “get off the road, live by the laws,” Bersani said.

Rooney’s last drunk driving arrest was in Braintree on March 9, 2007. Police say he was so drunk he was slumped over, passed out in his car in the middle of an intersection.

“It sounds like he hasn’t learned his lesson clearly,” said Braintree Deputy Police Chief Russell Jenkins. “On the night in question here in Braintree he was very intoxicated. His foot was on the brake and his head was slumped over on the passenger side of the vehicle. When he came out of the car he almost fell into the police officer and then fell into the car.”

A spokeswoman for the registry of Motor Vehicles said Rooney’s license is suspended until 2016, but the I-Team found him breaking the law again and again.

We caught Jim Rooney on video driving around his hometown of Stoughton on several days as well as on his trip to the liquor store on the Cape.

After we showed Deputy Chief Jenkins our video, we asked him what he would like to say to Rooney. “I hope you get caught and I hope the court deals with it properly and takes you off the road permanently,” Jenkins said.

Bersani agreed. “From what I can see on the police report on Mr. Rooney’s last offense, he was way over the limit,” Bersani said. “And that is extremely dangerous. It’s just fortunate he didn’t hit somebody.”

Bersani’s granddaughter Melanie was killed by a repeat drunk driver in Marshfield back in 2003 and he was the driving force behind the passage of “Melanie’s Law,” which stiffened the penalties against drunk drivers.

“You have to take away the opportunity for him to get behind the wheel of a car,” Bersani said. “And if somebody is knowingly providing someone access to a car they need to be prosecuted because they’re playing with someone else’s life and it’s not right.”

We asked Jim Rooney to sit down with us to explain why he was driving, but he declined. So we went back to Stoughton one week later and we found him behind the wheel of a Cadillac, driving yet again.

When we confronted him in a parking lot, Rooney acknowledged he had no license and apologized. “I know that I made a mistake, I’m sorry,” Rooney said. “I don’t drive, I have drivers half the time. I take the train half the time. I do small errands and I made a mistake.”

But when we pointed out that it wasn’t hard for us to find him out driving, he said, “I know.”

“Unfortunately we’re seeing way too many people who don’t learn anything and we see them a second time, third time, fourth time and a fifth time,” said David DeIuliis, director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Massachusetts. “Perhaps if we had interlocking devices for first offenders we could cut into that as well.”

According to the registry, Rooney qualified for a hardship license that would have allowed him to drive to work after his second drunk driving conviction in 2006. But that would have required him to blow into an ignition interlock device — what amounts to a breathalyzer test — before he could drive.

Rooney objected to that requirement, never got the hardship license, and never applied again, according to the registry.

If Rooney is caught driving with a suspended license again, he could lose his license beyond 2016 and face time behind bars. Rooney’s probation from his last OUI conviction expired in February of 2010.

No cars are currently registered to Rooney, but if any of his friends or relatives knowingly provided him with a car, they could also lose their license and face jail time.

According to MADD, in Massachusetts there are more than 22,000 people who have been convicted of drunk driving three or more times.

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