The federal government has been ordered to pay $7.5 million in damages to a Corpus Christi man in a court decision that attorneys said could lead to tougher enforcement of drunken driving laws.

Visiting U.S. District Judge Spencer Williams Friday ordered the government to pay damages because park rangers at Padre Island National Seashore failed to arrest a drunken driver later involved in an accident that severely injured Randy Crider, who filed the suit.Crider, 33, was riding his motorcycle on July 24, 1983, when his vehicle was struck head-on by a car driven by John Lee Landry. Crider lost an arm in the accident and later had to have his leg amputated.

Landry, 23, was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Park rangers Larry Couser and James F. Copeland had stopped Landry for speeding on a public road on Padre Island 10 hours before his accident. Evidence during the trial revealed that Landry was ticketed, rather than arrested, during the initial traffic stop, even though he was intoxicated and under the influence of marijuana.

Crider's attorney, Ben Sley of Corpus Christi, argued that the rangers should have known Landry was a hazard because his marijuana use could impair his judgment for up to 24 hours.

Williams of San Jose, Calif., ruled March 17 that failing to arrest Landry was "an act of negligence and that, as a consequence, an accident occurred."

The decision could save lives on U.S. highways if it leads to stricter enforcement of drunken driving laws because officers are afraid they may be sued, Sley said.