Senate passes bill to increase penalties in DUI crashes

February 28, 2019

CHARLESTON - A bill legislators began working on immediately following a summertime car crash just feet from where children were playing in Huntington’s Ritter Park passed the Senate unanimously Wednesday, the West Virginia Legislature’s crossover day.

Senate Bill 105 creates the misdemeanor crime of placing a non-passenger at risk of physical injury while driving impaired. The penalty is a fine of no less than $100 and no more than $1,000, a jail sentence of no more than a year, or both.

The bill is in response to prosecutors’ lack of options in charging a Huntington couple that overdosed in their vehicle and subsequently crashed into a light pole just feet from the playground in Ritter Park in July. Wanton endangerment laws criminalize weapons-related threats and impaired driving laws only accounted for an actual injury occurring.

“One thing I always say about Huntington here is we recognize our problems and we try to solve them,” said Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, the bill’s sponsor. “I think a lot of communities would cast shade over this particular situation and hope it would never happen again. We’ve actually taken some action, and I believe the House and the governor will jump on board and we will actually see something positive.”

A similar bill was introduced in the House of Delegates but did not leave committee.

Tabitha Wyrick, 34, the vehicle’s driver, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor driving under the influence in October and was sentenced to serve six months at Western Regional Jail in Barboursville. Her sentence began in early November. Other misdemeanor charges for assault and reckless driving were dismissed as part of the plea deal, according to Cabell Magistrate Dan Goheen.

Her husband, Bradley Wyrick, 33, went before Cabell Magistrate Johnny McCallister for a bench trial Jan. 18, accused of misdemeanor charges of permitting DUI and possession of a controlled substance in the July 2018 crash.

Bradley Wyrick has not been sentenced. Assistant public defender Gerald Henderson, who represents Wyrick, said Prosecuting Attorney Sean “Corky” Hammers failed to follow a magistrate court rule requiring discovery evidence be disclosed within 21 days of the Jan. 18 scheduled trial.

Bradley Wyrick’s bench trial originally was set for Nov. 29, but the prosecutor’s office also did not provide evidence that would be introduced or a list of witnesses who would testify, Henderson said. That case was granted a continuance after Huntington Police Cpl. Joey Koher, the investigating officer, did not show up.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.