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On a mission for the boys: Parents lobby legislature for tougher DUI laws

Juan Ruiz and Sandy Hernandez, parents of Alaries Ruiz, 5, and Cyris Ruiz, 9, will be at the N.D. Legislature this week to lobby for stiffer DUI laws. The brothers were killed when a pickup truck swerved off a gravel road and struck their tent at a Lake Metigoshe campground last summer. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

The parents of two young Texas boys killed when a pickup truck ran over their tent in a Lake Metigoshe campground last summer have returned to North Dakota to urge a toughening of state DUI laws.

Despite the tragedy, Juan Ruiz said that he and his wife, Sandy Hernandez, plan to stay in North Dakota, where Ruiz had been working for a light construction company serving the western oil boom. He will work for a Newburg, N.D., area farmer who had hired him for some field work before the tragedy and befriended the family in its aftermath.

Ruiz and Hernandez said they will be at the Capitol in Bismarck on Wednesday, Law Enforcement Day at the Legislature, to share their story with lawmakers.

"A lot died with them that night," the father of Cyris Ruiz, 9, and Alaries Ruiz, 5, said. "Yes, I'm here. I survived. But for my boys and for other people, for other families, I want to see more awareness, stiffer penalties, more shame.

"No words or actions are going to bring our little ones back. But I have to do this to find some kind of peace. I feel this is all that's keeping me sane."

'A good day'

Their last day of life had been an enchanted day at the lake for the boys, a day of new experiences in a new setting.

"They had never been in a place like that," Juan Ruiz said of the lake and wooded campground, just 2 miles from the Canadian border. "They had never been on a Jet Ski. They had never been on a tube, being pulled behind a boat.

"It was a good day, a happy day,"

As the sun set, the boys crawled into a tent in the Hahn's Bay Campground. They laughed and told stories and played games until their father reminded them that the next day would be a full day, too, with fishing at dawn and later a ride to see a small buffalo herd nearby.

They were asleep shortly after midnight when the driver of a pickup truck lost control on a gravel campground road and ran over the tent before crashing into a tree.

Juan Acosta, 31, of Newburg, was arrested and held on suspicion of driving under the influence. He remains in the Bottineau County Jail awaiting an April trial on felony charges of manslaughter and reckless endangerment. His attorney declined to comment Monday on the case.

State troopers said at the time that Acosta was driving too fast on the gravel road and lost control of his 2006 Ford F-250 pickup.

Bill introduced

Several bills aimed at toughening North Dakota's DUI laws are expected to be introduced this year in the North Dakota Legislature, which convened last week in Bismarck.

One bill, introduced late Monday by Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-Fargo, and backed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, would establish a mandatory minimum jail sentence of four days and a $750 fine for a first drunken driving offense.

The state officials advocated that and other changes to state DUI laws at a news conference last month in West Fargo.

"We cannot allow more and more lives to be lost or irreparably harmed by drunk drivers," Dalrymple said at the news conference.

Koppelman said the state faces "a DUI epidemic," and, "We need to change the culture and attitude about it."

It was another horrific crash that fueled the legislator's determination to seek a change. At the news conference, he said his bill would be called Brielle's Law, in memory of an 18-month-old West Fargo girl who was killed in July along with her parents by a pickup driver going the wrong way on Interstate 94 near Crystal Springs, N.D.

Authorities investigating the accident said they smelled alcohol on the pickup driver, who also died.

The crash that killed Aaron and Allison Deutscher and their daughter happened on July 6. A little more than 24 hours later, Ruiz and Hernandez lost their boys.


Ruiz said he wants to meet Lynn Mickelson, Allison Deutscher's father and Brielle's grandfather, to offer his condolences and to tell him about Cyris and Alaries.

"They were very different," he said. "Cyris ... he wasn't the most physical or agile kid. He liked using his brain more. He liked school. He knew that school was very important. He really liked taking things apart and building things, and he told me that when he grew up he wanted to make his own video games."

Alaries "was the one who was up and down walls," Ruiz said, as he and Hernandez smiled at the memory. "He loved to climb trees, and he loved to go fast, even though it scared him. He loved the thrill of it."