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For one Virginia family, last year’s promising holiday season became a season of grief because of a drunken driver. The man charged in the incident in Hanover County, VA, told police he had consumed as many as a dozen beers, and had a blood-alcohol content of .15. He now is being held without bond, charged with manslaughter and other crimes.

It was the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, 2011, and a 23-year-old son and his mother were returning home to King William from a Christmas shopping trip to Wal-Mart in Ashland. They were traveling east on state Route 54 about a mile east of Interstate 95. According to news reports, at about 9:45 p.m. they were sideswiped by an oncoming SUV that had crossed the center line.

The son, who was driving, was thrown to the roadway. His injuries were fatal. The mother suffered injuries to her head and chest.

The driver of the vehicle that struck them was found sitting in his vehicle 481 feet away, partially off the two-lane road. Investigators said that he later admitted to being an illegal immigrant. According to prosecuting attorneys, the man has used at least two aliases and is wanted in Caroline County and in Prince George’s County, Maryland (MD) for failure to appear on other traffic charges including reckless driving and no driver’s license, and has been convicted of a probation violation for failing to enroll in an alcohol safety program.

This driver now faces charges including aggravated involuntary manslaughter, DUI-related maiming, and DUI. He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted in the death of the other driver, and would be deported after his prison term.

Ironically, the 23-year-victim, the youngest of three brothers, was known for speaking out to his family and at church against driving while impaired. “He wouldn’t let you get near a car if he thought you’d been drinking,” said one brother.

Despite stronger laws, people continue to drink and drive, often drinking heavily. In this case, the driver had a blood-alcohol content of nearly twice the legal limit. According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, a driver with a BAC of 0.15 is over 300 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than a sober driver.

These senseless deaths and injuries keep happening at a terrible pace. The DMV reports that in 2009, 316 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes in Virginia. Nationally, the statistics are even worse. 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.

Every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This amounts to one death every 48 minutes. We can only hope that a heightened awareness of the dangers of drunk driving can reduce these tragedies.

Shapiro, Cooper Lewis & Appleton is a law firm which focuses on injury and accident law and we have handled thousands of car and truck accident cases. Check out our case results to see for yourself. The firm has deep roots in the Hampton Roads area. We’ve handled cases in all of the seven cities (Norfolk, Va. Beach, Chesapeake, Hampton, Portsmouth, Newport News, and Suffolk). Our office is based in Virginia Beach, located on Diamond Springs Road. All of our attorneys were raised in Virginia and have deep roots with the community.

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