EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A number of local drivers have been arrested recently for driving drunk with children in the vehicle but under Rhode Island law, they’ll only face a misdemeanor.
The local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving said this is something they’ve been trying to change for years.
Kelsie Teribury, 25, of Coventry, was stopped by police at the drive-thru of the Tiogue Avenue Taco Bell in mid-July and arrested on DUI charges. Police said she had her 7-year-old in the vehicle with her.
On July 31, police in Providence took 32-year-old Luis Villa into custody on drunk-driving charges. There were eight people in his car, according to police, including a pregnant woman and five children between the ages of 2 and 16.
Mariah Franco, 23, was arrested on DUI charges last week following a crash on Route 1 in North Kingstown. Police said her 4-year-old son was in the car at the time, but fortunately no one was hurt.
On Monday, police said 31-year-old Joelle Cortellessa had her 3-year-old in the back of her car when she was pulled over in Cranston and subsequently arrested under suspicion of driving drunk.
“That just doesn’t need to happen,” MADD spokesperson Eric Creamer said.
Creamer said his organization has tried repeatedly to strengthen the penalties for driving under the influence with a child in the car.
“It’s a misdemeanor currently,” he said. “MADD here in Rhode Island, we’re trying to make it a felony. It’s something we’re trying to work with the legislature on, it’s one of the keys to our legislative initiatives here in this state.”
A bill supported by MADD passed the state Senate last year, according to Creamer, but didn’t gain any traction in the House. He pointed to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from 2014 that showed 209 children were killed in DUI crashes nationwide. More than half of those were in the car with the drunk driver.
“No kid should ever have to be a victim of drunk driving ever again,” Creamer added. “That’s our ultimate goal and that pertains to every victim, both young and old.”
According to MADD, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducted a study that found states with no laws on DUI child endangerment had higher rates of child passenger deaths in drunk-driving crashes.