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Family wants to look into changing the law after fatal wreck

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- Sheila Sorrentino of Southport was killed in a head-on collision last June.

The driver who hit and killed her was charged with a misdemeanor, but Sheila’s family thought the punishment should be harsher.

Although it has been over a year since the fatal crash, Sheila’s daughters said they can still remember the shock they felt when they heard their mother was dead.

“When she (her sister) picked me up and told me she was dead I told her she was lying. I said ‘you’re lying,’ “said Sheila’s daughter Serena Johnson.

Sheila was just 55-years-old when she was killed.

Her family said she was always laughing, spoiled her grandchildren, and loved lunch dates with her daughters.

"She was just there. She was our mom doing what moms do,” said Johnson.

Investigators said 28-year-old Anna Kathleen Pierce hit Sheila’s vehicle when she crossed over the centerline on NC-133.

Sheila’s family said they later found out a hospital drug test showed Pierce tested positive for marijuana, cocaine, and meth.

"We were expecting the charges to be changed,” said Sheila’s daughter Theresa Smith.

Smith said investigators were not able to prove Pierce was impaired at the time of the wreck, which is why she was charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle and not a felony.

"When you party all weekend and get up Monday morning, after you used drugs, you are going to make bad judgments. Whether you are totally impaired or not, there is going to be a lingering affect,” said Smith.

Earlier this month Pierce pled guilty to the charge and was sentenced to 18 days in jail and three years’ probation.

Sheila’s family feels that was only a slap on the wrist for her which has prompted their fight for a change in the wording of the law.

"If you have a positive drug test, it should be a felony,” said Smith.

Smith said she reached out to Senator Thom Goolsby for guidance. She said she has not heard back.

WWAY also contacted Goolsby to no avail.

Smith also said she plans on contacting MADD and eventually Governor Pat McCrory.

Disclaimer: Comments posted on this, or any story are opinions of those people posting them, and not the views or opinions of WWAY NewsChannel 3, its management or employees. You can view our comment policy here.

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The relevant statute...

Please take a look at NCGS § 20-138.1, the impaired driving statute. It should shed some light on some of your questions.

Impaired driving.

(a) Offense. - A person commits the offense of impaired driving if he drives any vehicle upon any highway, any street, or any public vehicular area within this State:

(1) While under the influence of an impairing substance; or

(2) After having consumed sufficient alcohol that he has, at any relevant time after the driving, an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more. The results of a chemical analysis shall be deemed sufficient evidence to prove a person's alcohol concentration; or

(3) With any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance, as listed in G.S. 90-89, or its metabolites in his blood or urine.

(a1) A person who has submitted to a chemical analysis of a blood sample, pursuant to G.S. 20-139.1(d), may use the result in rebuttal as evidence that the person did not have, at a relevant time after driving, an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.

(b) Defense Precluded. - The fact that a person charged with violating this section is or has been legally entitled to use alcohol or a drug is not a defense to a charge under this section.

(b1) Defense Allowed. - Nothing in this section shall preclude a person from asserting that a chemical analysis result is inadmissible pursuant to G.S. 20-139.1(b2).

(c) Pleading. - In any prosecution for impaired driving, the pleading is sufficient if it states the time and place of the alleged offense in the usual form and charges that the defendant drove a vehicle on a highway or public vehicular area while subject to an impairing substance.

(d) Sentencing Hearing and Punishment. - Impaired driving as defined in this section is a misdemeanor. Upon conviction of a defendant of impaired driving, the presiding judge shall hold a sentencing hearing and impose punishment in accordance with G.S. 20-179.

(e) Exception. - Notwithstanding the definition of "vehicle" pursuant to G.S. 20-4.01(49), for purposes of this section the word "vehicle" does not include a horse. (1983, c. 435, s. 24; 1989, c. 711, s. 2; 1993, c. 285, s. 1; 2006-253, s. 9.)

Mr. Willis, in your case,

Mr. Willis, in your case, they are prescribed medications, not illegal ones, since when is marijuana, cocaine and meth legal to even be categorized with medications like roxy or methadone. I also understand the situation this family is in, because some people simply do not know when to stop or choose not to, when they are adversely effected by medications, unlike yourself. I know Sheila, (not closely) and I did not know this had occurred, until I had seen this. I think ANYONE that chooses to use illegal drugs and get behind the wheel of a vehicle and kills an innocent person should be charged with a felony, hands down. I'm not sure why it is stated they cannot prove she was under the influence at the time of the accident, if the hospital blood test shows she was positive for these drugs. This is also something that needs to change in our system. The proof is there, the legal system just chooses not to recognize it as proof. I support you girls in your journey!!

Free IUD's for teens FIRST!

Yea Oh right after the legislature writes the law to give IUD's for free upon request to the ghetto teen girls. That stops the LIL drug dealers from being conceived, and their mama's from selling their medicaid pills, buys us between 5 and 10 years of reduced welfare. Then this law to try to determine how much drug can be measured for impairment should be next.

IUD vouchers when collecting welfare check

This solves the dilemma of how to manage a welfare check drug testing program. When you pick up your welfare check, you get a voucher for your free IUD and then you continue to get your check as long as your doc returns your IUD voucher that you have had your IUD checkup.

Terrible

So it looks like she was also just arrested for breaking and entering....More than likely a drug fueled break in. She is a career criminal at the ripe old age of 28...

No state

No state senator/representative will help this family simply because most are attorneys and most of them make a living defending people that drive under the influence or are impaired in some way.

texting and driving are

texting and driving are causing more accidents and fatalities than drinking and driving have ever thought about, so do you really want to make the highways safer or are you just wanting to rally around a feel good idea, I'd like to see everyone take a full medical and a driving test each year to hold a drivers license, including a simulated drive in a simulator to evaluate response times, I'd like to remove everyone off the highway that is a danger.

As much as I sympathize with

As much as I sympathize with the family, passing this type of law migh not be a good idea. It would only open the door to include prescription medication sooner or later. As long as the drugs were not a factor causing the accident, might better leave that alone. I would rather see them concentrate on drunk drivers.

Who is to say if the drugs

Who is to say if the drugs were a factor or not? After haven to be cut out of her at the scene, I doubt any helpful feild sobriety test could have been completed on Ms. Pierce. I do feel that the presents of three ILLEGAL drugs in a person system after a fatal accident should warrant a more serious charge. Do we disregard those killed by drug useless to concentrate on drunk drivers?!? Do you know who is in the car in the other lane. I do not!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rights!!!

You know the greatest thing in this country is our rights under the LAW. Being innocent until proven guilty. Guess what family good ole Thom can't change what the constitution gives us. If there is no proof of the levels of intoxication then there is no case other than the lesser charge. That they can prove that the accident happened and the defendant was the driver. No evidence of intoxication no case!

operating deadly weapon while substance impaired

Disgusting sentence. Not until the law holds drivers fully accountable for harm they cause with a vehicle while they are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, meaning spending the rest of their lives incarcerated and working at minimum wage in prison to pay back the families who have lost loved ones,
will people stop "using" and "abusing."

If I were a member of the family of this dead woman, I would wait until this miscreant was back in public, drink a load of liquor, and run her over and then plead for a misdemeanor. And I am not kidding.

You are a very dangerous

You are a very dangerous person. You should not be allowed to operate a motor vehicle or own a firearm until your attitude changes.

change in law

I disagree....I take medication for my back that states....." do not operate a vehicle or machinery until you know how the medication will effect you"..... if I were to take a drug test, I would be positive for methadone and Roxycodone but not impaired!