Students hear DUI warnings

Published 6:07 pm Saturday, May 13, 2017

Nansemond River High School students received a warning against drunk driving from Suffolk police, the Sheriff’s Office and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office on Friday.

The students filled the school auditorium for a video presentation regarding the dangers of drunk driving and listened to speakers detail the harsh consequences as prom season approaches. Among the speakers were Sheriff E.C. Harris, Deputy Police Chief Steve Patterson, and Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson.

“We do not want anybody in this room to get charged with a DUI,” Ferguson said.

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Ferguson explained the elements of a DUI and clarified the definition of “operating a motor vehicle.” He used an example of an impaired individual that was charged with a DUI when he was behind the wheel of a parked car.

“Even though he wasn’t actually moving, he still had control of the vehicle,” he said.

Impaired drivers caught driving erratically or unable to perform field sobriety tests will suffer legal consequences, he said. These drivers are considered to have consented to breath tests within three hours of operating a vehicle. Refusal results in its own set of consequences.

A first-time DUI offense may result in up to one year in jail and a mandatory $250 minimum fine. The second offense comes with at least one month of jail time and a $500 fine. Third-time offenders within 10 years of the offenses will be charged with felonies, with up to five years in prison and $1,000 fines.

Anyone under the age of 21 caught drinking and driving will be charged with a class one misdemeanor. Their licenses will be forfeited for one year, attend Alcohol Safety Action Program classes, and either pay $500 or perform 50 hours of community service at minimum.

“This may save your life, a friend’s life or a family member’s life,” Patterson said.

Ferguson’s presentation ended with news headlines over the past several years. One May 1, 2012 headline read “Suffolk school is ‘reeling’ after senior’s death in crash”, and “Teen indicted in friend’s death after Suffolk crash” on Jan. 1, 2013.

“I don’t want to see one of you in the courtroom with these kinds of headlines,” Ferguson said.

Some students felt the impact of the presentation.

“Hearing the history let me know and show me that we need to take more responsibility, and take more action in what we do,” 18-year-old NRHS senior Dia Gray said.

Hannah Rountree, a 17-year-old junior, said she and her friends changed their plans for the upcoming festivities. They want to enjoy themselves under safer conditions.

“I think we’ve decided to do something else, so we don’t get involved with drinking and driving,” she said.

At recent Suffolk school presentations like this, Harris has been distributing his contact information to students. The cards are strictly for teenagers that haven’t been drinking, but may be in precarious circumstances with peers that have been drinking this prom season.

It’s for the students doing the right thing, and who don’t want to be in a car with peers that are under the influence.

“I don’t want somebody to be in a bad spot,” Harris said. “I can give some of my time to make sure somebody gets home safe.”