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Heartbreaking DUI Fatality Is Reminder of Need for Sober Driving

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It had been a festive night, a night for two friends to remember fondly. But because of a drunken driver, it became a nightmare that the young woman will never forget, that the young man did not survive.

The two, both 23, left a party at Guadalajara Restaurant at Town Center in Virginia Beach, VA, just after midnight, the woman recalls, holding hands and feeling happy. She does not remember being hit by a Ford Explorer as the pair crossed Columbus Street.

The driver was a repeat offender, a 30-year-old woman with a long string of serious traffic offences. She pleaded guilty in September to involuntary manslaughter while driving under the influence, drunken driving that led to serious injury, a second drunken driving conviction within five years and refusal to take a breath test.

On Tuesday, Feb. 22, she was sentenced to five years in prison.

The woman had six prior reckless driving convictions and five prior convictions for driving on a suspended license, one prosecutor told the judge. “She was reckless and had been reckless many, many times before. This time, she killed someone.”

In addition to the total of five years behind bars, which is more than the state sentencing guidelines recommend, the driver must remain on good behavior and cannot drive a vehicle for another dozen years after her release. The judge said he considered her remorse as well as her history of traffic violations before pronouncing the sentence.

Is five years an appropriate sentence? One prosecutor did not think so: “As is too often the case, the Sentencing Guidelines for this defendant, with her atrocious driving record, were inadequate. One dead and one seriously, permanently injured should merit substantially higher sentencing parameters.”

Given the driver’s five prior convictions for driving on a suspended license, one can only hope that the experience of incarceration will make more of an impression than whatever previous punishments she received, and keep her off of the road when she is released.

This tragedy left the surviving victim with an indelible memory, that of the loss of her friend. Along broken teeth, shattered bones and a fractured spine, she said, “Emotionally, I’ll never be OK. I don’t know how you’ll ever be OK after that.”

Every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This amounts to one death every 48 minutes. The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $51 billion.

In 2009, 10,839 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (32 percent) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.

Heart-wrenching stories like this one are retold thousands of times. We can only hope that heightened awareness and stronger laws can reduce the occurrence of these senseless deaths and injuries.

If you would like us to evaluate your auto injury case, please contact our firm for a free, no-hassle consultation. If the line is busy, please continue calling so we can evaluate your case. Our number is (800) 752-0042.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, whose attorneys work out of offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, Eastern Shore Virginia Injury Attorneys Blog and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.