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Laurels and darts: County's justice system fails to protect lives

July 16, 2012

DARTS

Darts to the Catawba County justice system which has not only failed to keep safe the streets of Catawba County for citizens, but also failed people like Brett VonDrehle in the process.

As reported in the weekend edition of The Observer News Enterprise, police say VonDrehle was driving a car at a high rate of speed when it was involved in a horrific crash in Hickory. Twenty-three at the time, VonDrehle, and his two passengers were seriously injured in the wreck.

They are lucky to be alive. We are all lucky that we didn't cross the pass of the new Jaguar's travel that night in May 2009.

Three years later, charges connected to the crash are still unresolved. They are scheduled for trial later this month, but it is still unclear whether the court case will proceed and a judgement will be rendered.
What is clear is that the accident could have been avoided.

Sure, it is easy to say that the problem could have been avoided if VonDrehle hadn’t been intoxicated and speeding at the time of the wreck, as police report.

The problem goes much deeper.

Chances are the accident wouldn't have happened if VonDrehle had learned a lesson the first time he was charged with an alcohol-related offense — or the second time. Dismissed charges, and a small fine aren't enough to teach a lesson.

Likewise, had VonDrehle received a real punishment any of the numerous times he was charged with speeding or driving while intoxicated — times when his charges were either lowered or dismissed by District 25 Attorney James C. Gaither Jr.'s Office — he might have learned that there is a penalty for making a mistake.

Unfortunately, each time VonDrehle encountered the law, received a citation or was charged with DWI, his charges were either dismissed, or he received a slap on the wrist.

That's not his fault.

It is the fault of a District 25 Attorney's Office which demonstrated such a willingness to allow a young man to endanger motorists and himself while behind the wheel of a car. It is the fault of a prosecutor who often campaigns on being tough on people who drink and drive, but who also turns a blind eye to those who commit crime when it benefits him — even if they do it repeatedly.

In addition to The O-N-E's report on the 2009 DWI arrest and associated felony charges, inside the weekend edition there is also a laundry list of people who have been convicted in Catawba County courtrooms during the past week. These people committed felonious acts and they will now face a punishment for their crime. Hopefully they will learn a lesson at the hands of the justice system of Catawba County.

If that same justice system had operated so effectively the first time it encountered Brett R. VonDrehle — when he was 17-18 years old, speeding, acting recklessly and possessing alcohol — he might not be facing the scrutiny he does today.

Hopefully by this point VonDrehle has reformed himself — we invite him to tell his side of the story and clear his name just as publicly as it has been sullied.

More importantly, we hope that District 25 Attorney Gaither will soon begin prosecuting DWI charges just as equally and vigorously as he does other crimes.

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