Father pleads guilty after driving intoxicated with children strapped to the car

Aaron Stefanski, 29, of Fort Wayne, Indiana has pleaded guilty to four charges after driving intoxicated with his children strapped to the hood of the car.

Stefanski was arrested back in May after a neighbor called 911 saying he saw Stefanski strapping the children, 4 and 7, to the hood of the car with a tow strap and then drive off.

The officers said Stefanski had told them that he thought the children would enjoy the ride and that he was only going to drive around the corner.

Stefanski accepted a plea agreement with prosecutors this past Monday pleading guilty to child neglect and drunken driving charges. He faces six months to three years in prison on each of the four felony counts.

He is being sentenced on August 3rd.

Important Virginia Legal Advice: Use your lawyer!

Two recent episodes reminded me to repeat this basic legal adage: 

Once you hire a law firm, let them do their job. 

Clients of The Gordon Law Firm in Fairfax, Virginia are reminded of this advice immediately after choosing our firm.  Once we have been retained to provide our clients help, they are encouraged to only communicate with our law firm about their case, and to limit communication about the facts of the case to friends, family, and to the general public.  They are also reminded that any statements a defendant makes about the case after the arrest can be used against them at trial.  Additionally if a person claims publicly that “injustice has been done” or that the “police officer should be fired”, the offensive public statements may become “bulletin board material” for some prosecutors and police officers.  Two recent events in the news are almost the equivalent of a quarterback calling an opposing teams linebackers “moronic, steroid shooting, cross-dressers”.  That puts too much pressure on your offensive line.  Or in these cases, your criminal defense attorneys.

Don’t go before your church and tell the congregation “I should have never been arrested”.

Pastor Creflo Dollar did just as he denied punching and choking his 15-year-old daughter. He told the congregation that the police report included “exaggeration and sensationalism.”  He was charged with misdemeanor counts of simple battery and cruelty to children.

Dollar launched into a lengthy denial of the allegations from the pulpit.

“The truth is that a family conversation with our youngest daughter got emotional,” he said. “And emotions got involved and things escalated from there.”

Dollar also said “I will never put any fault on my children, as Jesus would never put any fault on me“.

As he talked about the difficulty dealing with teenage children in a “culture of disrespect,” many in the crowd nodded in agreement. The pastor got an enthusiastic ovation from the packed World Changers Church International in the Atlanta suburb of College Park.

Using Jesus’s name to support your cause in church is one thing.  However, getting Jesus to testify in court will be pretty tough.

See God’s previous testimony in this famous film scene. Skip the inane music to the 3:33 for the good stuff:

Creflo Dollar’s 15-year-old daughter called 911 at about 1 a.m. Friday after they argued when he said she couldn’t go to a party. A Fayette County police report says the girl told a deputy her father charged at her, put his hands around her throat, began to punch her and started hitting her with his shoe. The report said the deputy also interviewed Dollar’s 19-year-old daughter, who said her father grabbed her sister’s shoulders and slapped her in the face and choked her for about five seconds. She said her sister tried to break free, but did not fight back. When her father threw the 15-year-old on the floor, the older girl ran to get her mother. Dollar’s wife, Taffi, told the deputy she did not see the fight.

Dollar is one of the most prominent African-American preachers based around Atlanta who have built successful ministries on the prosperity gospel, which teaches that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches. Ministers in this tradition often hold up their own wealth as evidence that the teaching works

Dollar said in a 2007 interview with The Associated Press that he renounced his church salary, and his income only comes from personal investments, including a real estate residential property business and horse breeding company called Dollar Ranch. He’s also published more than 30 books, focusing mostly on family and life issues, including debt management. He also has been claimed that he has been paid up to $100,000 for a single appearance on his packed schedule of speaking engagements.

Of course, I do not represent Mr. Dollar, nor do I know him well.  I surely was not present at the time he was arguing with his teenage children.  His daughters may be mistaken or lying about what happened. In light of his personal wealth, I would suspect he has hired competent legal counsel in the Atlanta area. His efforts on his own behalf have probably made his lawyer’s job a good bit harder.

Don’t ask the President of The United States to fire the police officer that arrested you; and

Don’t Twitter your request to the entire world.

Amanda Bynes, young woman who has appeared in several television shows and movies, was charged in a Hit and Run and DUI in Los Angeles, California. She has only been charged, she has hired a DUI attorney, and she eventually may be found not guilty at a DUI trial.

However, tweeting this is not a good idea and is not likely to help your case.

“Hey @BarackObama… I don’t drink. Please fire the cop who arrested me. I also don’t hit and run. The end”

Even though Amanda Bynes is only 26 years old, she should know that firing a local police officer is not among the chief executive’s enumerated powers.  And while President Obama does have the power to issue pardons, such pardons are only for federal convictions, not for state DUI charges.

See CNN Anderson Cooper make comments here.

Bynes faces a single count of misdemeanor DUI after she allegedly sideswiped a Los Angeles police cruiser on April 6. She allegedly refused both a breathalyzer and a blood test, she could face a harsher sentence of up to six months in jail if convicted according to California law.

The DUI law in Virginia is much different than in California.  However, President Obama will not be able to help you out if arrested for a DUI in either Hollywood or in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Reckless Driving Cases in the News

Three Strikes and you are out?   

Don’t test the limits when it comes to reckless driving.

An Edinburg driver has been charged with Reckless Driving in Virginia three times since 2011.  A reckless driving charge in Virginia is punishable by up to 12 months in jail, a fine of up to $2500.00 and a six month loss of driving privileges.

The gentleman was convicted of his first offense of Reckless driving in May 2011 and fines $400 in Shenandoah County.

His second charge of reckless driving went to court on March 27, 2012. After a trial, Shenandoah County General District Court Judge Amy Tisinger ruled that his actions did not incite a race that led to the death of a passenger in another vehicle.  He was found not guilty.

The reckless driving charge that ended in acquittal earlier this year arose from an accident in December 29, 2010 on U.S. 11 just north of Woodstock. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Ryan King called “a pick-up” race between the defendant and the driver of a 1997 Mitsubishi Eclipse.

The Mitsubishi Eclipse crashed and ejected the passenger who was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.  A crash reconstruction investigator, testified at the trial that Eclipse was probably traveling more than 90 mph before veering off the road and smashing into rocks and an embankment.

In Virginia, many courts do not accept evidence of accident reconstruction in cases involving reckless driving.  The lack of any eyewitnesses and proof beyond a reasonable doubt led the judge to find the man not guilty.

However, just two days later, a Virginia State Police officer charged the 21 year old man with Reckless Driving again.  The officer saw the man “popping wheelies” on his motorcycle on Reservoir Road and Hisey Avenue around 1 p.m. in Shenandoah County.  As a result, he was charged with Reckless Driving under Virginia code section 46.2-852.

The accused, Sean Michael Ratcliffe is scheduled to appear in General District Court at 2 p.m. July 31.

Speaking of testing the limits…

A Charlton New York man was facing felony eluding, reckless driving, and speeding charges back on May 3, 2012 when New York State Police clocked him at 170 MPH on his motorcycle, but on Wednesday night he plead guilty to only a misdemeanor charges of reckless driving.

The New York Judge sentenced the young man to ‘time already served’ (20 days) and a minimum of one year’s license suspension.

In most jurisdictions in Northern Virginia like Fairfax and Loudoun, most judges consider putting people in jail for one day for each mile per hour a driver exceeds 90 mph.  So a Fairfax County judge, if they followed that standard, may have considered putting the young man in jail for 80 days.

Assistant District Attorney Jasper Mills talked about how the motorcyclist was actually caught.  Mills said, “He ran out of gas. That’s what stopped him.”

And after hearing that he was clocked at such a high rate of speed, on a bike, just about everyone who has heard this story seemed amazed that adrenaline junkie is still alive.  But, when FOX23 News caught up with him on his way out of a Ravena, NY  courtroom, he  promised to hit that high rate of speed again.

While still in handcuffs, and heading into a waiting Albany County Sheriff’s Department van, McCarthy said, “I’m feeling good! I’m going home! You’ll see me on the race track.” When asked if he was at all worried about his own ‘personal safety’ at that speed, he said, “When you’re going that fast on a motorcycle, you make your own peace with God.”


What limits?  More New York motorcyclists and Reckless Driving

Authorities say a 28-year-old man in upstate New York has been charged with driving his motorcycle at nearly 193 mph on a highway in the rain.

State police say a trooper clocked a Poughkeepsie man driving at 193 mph around 8 p.m. Wednesday in the southbound lanes of Interstate 87 just south of Albany, NY, the same stretch of road where another motorcyclist was spotted doing 166 mph earlier this month.

The driver was issued 14 traffic tickets.

Many bikes on the market today are designed to go up to 180 mph, but for use on the race track, not the street.   A motorcycle shop owner admits there are some people who just have a ‘need for speed,’ but again made the point that endangering lives by speeding out on the road is not the way to do it.

“Someone who needs that type of adrenaline rush needs to do it on a race track where it’s safer for them, and it’s safer for just the normal motorists who are just out there driving correctly,” he said.


But I wasn’t even driving….

Involuntary Manslaughter Trial continued for NC bus dispatcher that allegedly caused Virginia bus crash

A North Carolina bus dispatcher will stand trial in Virginia in October on charges stemming from a wreck that killed four passengers.

The Caroline County Circuit Court clerk says the trial of Zhao Jian Chen was continued on Wednesday from its original June court date. The two-day trial is now set to begin Oct. 30.

In March, Chen pleaded not guilty to four involuntary manslaughter counts stemming from the May 31, 2011, crash on Interstate 95 about 30 miles north of Richmond.  The driver of the bus for Sky Express, Mr. Cheung, was charged with Reckless Driving in Virginia by the State Police.

Prosecutor Tony Spencer has said Chen, the bus dispatcher, told Sky Express driver Kin Yiu Cheung of New York to continue driving after Cheung told him he was too tired.

Cheung’s bus swerved off the highway, hit an embankment and overturned. He originally faced Virginia Reckless Driving charges, but the prosecutor sought involuntary manslaughter charges after the further investigation.


26 Bus Services Shut Down by US Department of Transportation

The US Department of Transportation began a crackdown on 26 bus agencies for “serious safety threats”.  The year long investigation began after 4 people died in a bus crash in Virginia.  The driver of the bus was allegedly tired and was first charged with Reckless Driving under Virginia code 46.2-852.  Later the charges were changed to involuntary manslaughter.

FMCSA shut down a total of 26 bus operations that run along the East Coast in what they’re calling the agency’s largest safety crackdown ever, citing a “serious safety threat to passengers and motorists on our roadways.”

FMCSA uncovered a pattern of safety violations including drivers operating without commercial licenses, vehicles that were not regularly inspected and repaired and companies that didn’t enforce alcohol and drug tests.

These companies take advantage of poor customers who cannot afford cars and could not otherwise travel along the East Coast. They offer service on what Transportation Secretary LaHood calls “very, very poorly equipped buses,” with drivers who in some cases are not properly trained or properly rested.

“People don’t think about safety. That’s our job,” says LaHood of the millions of travelers every year who get on board a coach, airplane, train or car and don’t consider the safety implications. “We want to make sure it’s safe.”

Some of the companies operated routes out of Chinatown in D.C. and Chinatown in New York City.

The companies transported over 1,800 passengers a year on Interstate 95 between New York and Florida, according to DOT.  New Century bus line was one company affected by the crackdown.

New Century has multiple routes out of the D.C. area. They provide routes from Richmond and D.C. to New York City and Philadelphia, and from Baltimore to New York City.

Fairfax County Judge Throws Out DUI Case Against Former FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt

Randy Babbitt resigned from the FAA in December 2011 after he was pulled over on suspicion of DWI in Farifax City, Virginia. It only took three days from the December 6th traffic stop to close out Babbitt’s tenure in the top job at the FAA. Last week the DWI case against Babbitt was thrown out of court, leaving him free and clear but without his old job.

Even though the judge’s dismissal took only 20 minutes, Babbitt has faced extensive public ridicule and the loss of a top Federal government job due to the charges. Unfortunately this is an all too common story, with people paying a heavy price for drunk driving allegations long before a court evaluates the truth of those charges.

This is especially true in Virginia where the general public does not have access to police reports or notes until trial, which  – as in Babbitt’s situation – often takes place many months after the precipitating incident.

In Fairfax County a police general order actually mandates that arrests involving public officials be made public for any criminal or serious traffic charges, including DUI or reckless driving.

In Babbitt’s court appearance Fairfax Judge, Ian O’Flaherty ruled that, in contrast to Fairfax City Police Officers, Mike Morris’s allegation that he had seen Babbitt crossing the yellow center line and driving on the wrong side of the road, the police officer had pulled Babbit over only on a “hunch” after a routine turn.

The judges dismissal came after video Babbitt’s traffic stop was played, which showed Babbitt making what looks to our eyes like an unremarkable left-hand turn into a parking area. Babbitt does indeed cross the center lines (hard to make a left hand turn without doing so) but he did not drive on the wrong side of the road as Fairfax City Officer Mike Morris alleged in the initial criminal complaint.

View the video here, via local news, and see if you think this looks like an illegal left turn to you:

Meanwhile Babbitt’s defense lawyer argued that the roadside breath test Babbitt took showed a blood alcohol level below Virgina’s legal limit. Prosecutors stated that later tests showed Babbitt’s levels over the legal limit but O’Flaherty dismissed the case before this evidence was even presented.

The FAA subsequently released a statement on Babbitt’s exoneration:

“For decades, Randy has been one of the most recognized and respected people in aviation. His contributions to the safety and efficiency of air transportation in the United States and around the world are significant,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. “We are pleased that the matter that led to his resignation from the FAA is now closed. We wish him all the best in whatever his future plans may be and trust that the aviation community will benefit from his considerable talent, expertise and commitment.”

Small comfort to the man who used to run the organization, but for the now disproven accusation of drunk driving. We’d argue that some apologetic phone calls need to be made.

Of his exonneration, Babbitt said:

“I am thrilled the charges against me have been dismissed at trial and I have been found not guilty,”

Situations like this illustrate why we always recommend speaking to an attorney before making a decision about how to approach a  drunk driving charge.  Just because you face a charge does not mean you are guilty or that you should accept the prosecutions interpretation of the evidence.

We make it easy with a FREE CONSULTATION to discuss the particulars of your case but whether or not you speak to Alex or Carlos here at The Gordon Law Firm, you should speak to someone – a qualified attorney with experience defending DUI cases in Virginia.

It really can make all the difference.

Give us a call at 703-218-8426 and get help today.



DC Pays Drivers for DUI Convictions Because of Faulty Breath Test Results

The Washington, DC government is paying $20,000 to four individuals challenging their DUI convictions based on the DC Metropolitan Police Department’s poor upkeep of breathalyzer equipment.  DC’s failure to properly maintain and calibrate their breathalyzers over a number of years means that cases brought based on the evidence obtained by that equipment are suspect.

Already sixteen similar claims have been brought against the city. Settlement offers are out to six individuals and ten claims are pending in DC Superior Court. The District government admitted in 2010 that the improperly calibrated equipment would overstate an individuals blood alcohol level by as much as 20%. Approximately 400 convictions dating back to 2008 may ultimately be effected.

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