By Kevin Morison
A Fairfax County (VA) judge has come up with a novel sentence for a drunk driver who slammed into a parked Virginia State Police cruiser last April and seriously injured a trooper: 45 days in jail, plus 100 hours helping publicize Virginia’s “Move Over” law that requires drivers to exercise caution around emergency vehicles by the side of the roadway.
The Washington Post reports that Fairfax General District Court Judge Thomas E. Gallahue had recently seen a presentation on Virginia’s Move Over law and decided the campaign could benefit from the help of the 34-year-old driver who was charged with drunk driving in the incident.
The trooper, J.T. Mahalik, had stopped another motorist along I-66 west of Washington, DC, and was sitting in his cruiser with the other driver when David J. Stout of Centreville, VA, rear-ended the cruiser, causing it to burst into flames. Though suffering spinal injuries and burns to his legs, Trooper Mahalik managed to pull to safety the man in his cruiser, who was unconscious by this time, before the cruiser became totally engulfed in flames.
This was the first of three crashes in less than two weeks last spring in which troopers were struck and injured by other drivers. That prompted the State Police to ramp up its enforcement of, and publicity surrounding, the state’s Move Over law … with the help of Judge Gallahue.
State Police spokeswoman Corrine Geller told that Post that the agency “appreciates the opportunity that the judge has afforded us to have other means to educate the public about officer safety.” She said police were considering using Mr. Stout to create a public service announcement for radio or television, or assist troopers with presentations.
Let’s hope others are paying attention to the creative sentencing employed by Judge Gallahue. 2008 is the 11th year in a row in which more law enforcement officers nationwide are being killed in traffic-related incidents than from gunshots or any other single cause of death. Our officers need and deserve all the protection they can get while out on our roadways working to protect the rest of us. Move Over laws are an important step. But there needs to be more public education about the laws—and swift, certain and sometimes creative consequences for those who violate the law and endanger our officers.