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DUI court hits home for Albert Powell students
Yuba City optometrist Gary Taxera shared a story about his daughter who died in a DUI-related incident. The scene inspired the Albert Powell students to sign a pledge against drunken driving after the meeting closed.
"The doctor who lost his daughter really tugged at me," senior Corey White said.
Senior Danielle Plaxco said she enjoyed the program because it showed how real people can be affected by drunken driving. Even seeing Hamilton for the first time surprised her.
"She looked like just a regular, everyday girl," Plaxco said. "We didn't even know she was the defendant when she walked in."
This year, there has been 88 DUI-related crashes and 358 DUI arrests in Yuba and Sutter counties, according to California Highway Patrol reports.
Chuck Whitecotton, principal at Albert Powell, said the DUI Court in Schools session was a big undertaking for the school, but one he hopes inspires further community involvement.
"We try to take a proactive approach, so that we all learn to become better citizens," Whitecotton said.
Students of Albert Powell High School sat in a make-shift courtroom Wednesday morning, as they witnessed a sentencing and emotional family testimony aimed at discouraging drunken driving.
For students like Madison Jeremiah, the experience hit home.
Jeremiah wept as a father, standing in front of about 35 students, told the story of his daughter who became a victim of a fatal DUI accident. The testimony, Jeremiah said, reminded her of a friend who died about four years ago in a head-on collision that was caused by a drunken driver.
"It really brought it all back," she said.
The grant-funded community outreach program that turns school rooms into real DUI courtrooms is made possible through the Office of Traffic Safety and the California Friday Night Live Partnership. On Wednesday, DUI Court in Schools came to Albert Powell where lawyers, law enforcement officials, students and teachers watched the sentencing of Lorrine Hamilton, 22, who was arrested for drunken driving last July.
"I could've injured someone or killed someone," Hamilton told the court, "and that is the worst feeling a person can endure."
Hamilton pleaded no contest to a drinking and driving charge in connection with an accident in which she crashed her Volvo into a parked Toyota Corolla. She had been drinking at a friend's house before hitting the car on Forbes Avenue.
Hamilton's blood alcohol content was about .24 percent, or three times the legal limit. No one was injured in the crash.
Before her sentencing Wednesday, Hamilton addressed the court.
"It's not worth taking your life or an innocent person's life," she said. "It's a serious lesson learned."
Judge Brian Aronson sentenced Hamilton to probation and 20 days in Sutter County Jail. Additionally, she will have to pay for the damage on the Corolla and enroll in a nine-month DUI program.
"I believe if you spend the 20 days in jail, and serve all the other conditions of your probation," Aronson told Hamilton, "then I believe justice will be served."
Aronson has been involved with the DUI Court in Schools program for about four years. Albert Powell is the 10th school to hold the event, and is especially unique because it is a continuation school, he said.
After the sentencing, Hamilton was handcuffed and sent to the Sutter County Jail. Court was adjourned, and a brief question-and-answer session for the audience began with Aronson, Sutter County Deputy District Attorney Kimberly Webb and Sutter County Deputy Public Defender Mani Sidhu on the panel.