Laura Fortenberry, a 17-year-old girl from Gaston County, NC, was killed by a repeat offender of driving while intoxicated (DWI) on July 25, 2010. Laura was riding as a passenger in a vehicle that was hit head-on when Howard Pasour, 28, of Bessemer City attempted to pass several cars on Dallas-Cherryville Highway.
Trevor Spencer Prough, an 18-year-old pedestrian, was hit and killed on US 421 in Winston-Salem on February 19, 2011 by a driver with a history of DWI. Though Kaitlin Smith Slater, 24, was not charged with DWI in this fatal incident, one can’t help but wonder if she fled the scene because she was drunk driving. She eventually turned herself in and has since been charged with aggravated felony death by vehicle, felony hit-and-run causing serious injury and driving with a revoked license. Ms. Slater lost her license due to a DWI in 2008.
On March 10, 2011, North Carolina legislators in the House of Representatives voted unanimously to approve a bill that would toughen our state’s drunken-driving consequences, especially for habitual drunk drivers like those who killed Laura Fortenberry and Trevor Prough.
Laura’s Law would increase the punishment for some offenders of DWI. If an individual has three or more grossly aggravating factors in addition to their charge of DWI, that person might be subject to serving jail time.
DWI is bad enough, but when someone repeats the mistake, the offense is much worse. Laura’s Law aggressively targets repeat offenders of DWI. Once the bill is passed, a judge or jury will have the power to determine grossly aggravating factors, which can include prior convictions for an offense involving impaired driving. A prior conviction includes:
a. A conviction that occurred within seven years before the date of the offense for which the defendant is being sentenced.
b. A conviction occurs after the date of the offense for which the defendant is presently being sentenced.
c. A conviction occurred in district court and is awaiting a new sentence hearing following an appeal.
Each of these prior convictions can be considered a separate grossly aggravating factor that could lead to a jail term.
Other grossly aggravating factors are outlined in Laura’s Law. Driving by the defendant while his or her driver’s license was revoked because of a previous DWI conviction would count as a factor. Another factor that could lead to jail time would be if the impaired driver inflicted serious injury to another person at the time of the automobile accident or incident in question. Also, if the person was driving while intoxicated with a minor under 16-years-old in the vehicle that fact could contribute to sentencing that includes a jail term.
If a DWI defendant is convicted and subject to Aggravated Level One punishment, he or she may be fined up to ten thousand dollars. The offender would face no less than a year—that’s 12 months, minimum—of imprisonment. He or she could be in jail for up to two and a half years, and not eligible for parole.
Laura’s Law would also authorize the court to require continuous alcohol monitoring for Aggravated Level One offenders. That means that for the last four months of the offender’s jail sentence, he or she would be released but required to abstain from alcohol consumption during that time. The four-month supervision period would be verified by a continuous alcohol monitoring system approved by the Department of Correction. The offender would also be compelled to seek admission as an inpatient in an alcohol or substance abuse treatment facility—at the defendant’s expense, of course.
Laura Fortenberry’s life was cut short, but continues to be a positive force even in death. Her mother, Michelle Armstrong, is devoted to the cause behind the bill that carries her daughter’s name. The repeat DWI offender who struck and killed Laura pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and other charges. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison last week.