Cops and Courts, Latest News

Driver charged with DUI after allegedly hitting suspected panhandler

The driver accused of hitting a suspected panhandler on Monday afternoon at the Venture Drive/Cheat Road intersection has been charged with driving under the influence causing bodily injury. 

Monongalia County sheriff’s deputies were called to the Pierpont Centre intersection at approximately 12:17 p.m. and met with driver Steven R. Carpenter, 57, of Masontown. 

Carpenter stated he was traveling through the intersection and ran over the median, striking the pedestrian, according to the criminal complaint filed by Deputy W.E. Crawford. 

Crawford noted Carpenter had bloodshot eyes, was unsteady on his feet and needed to lean on his vehicle to maintain balance. 

Carpenter was given the standardized field sobriety tests. Crawford said he failed all three tests. 

Inside Carpenter’s vehicle, deputies found several items associated with the consumption of illegal substances including glass pipes, steel wool and a used plastic bag. 

The accident has brought the Monongalia County Commission’s controversial Pedestrian and Vehicle Safety Ordinance, passed last year, back into the spotlight. 

The ordinance, which makes exceptions for emergency personnel, deems it illegal for pedestrians within a right-of-way and drivers or passengers in vehicles to restrict traffic flow by exchanging items or interacting in any way. 

Critics of the ordinance believed the law was created to criminalize panhandling, which is considered protected speech, and would ultimately punish the poor.  

The commission, however, made it a point that the law does not prohibit speech or criminalize poverty or homelessness — it addresses the safety issue of people loitering in the roadway. 

Following Monday’s accident, Commissioner Tom Bloom said such incidents show why the ordinance is in place. 

“What we saw was an unfortunate accident,” Bloom told The Dominion Post. “This time it was by a DUI driver, which is not acceptable, but this only accents the need to enforce and support this ordinance.” 

Carpenter was arraigned in Monongalia County Magistrate Court where a $5,000 bond was set. 

If convicted, Carpenter could face up to one year in prison, pay fines up to $1,000, and have his license revoked for a period of two years or until completing the test-and-lock program. 

The condition of the victim in Monday’s accident is unknown at this time, but they were reported to have suffered injuries. 

“I hope this is a one-and-done incident,” Bloom said. “Unfortunately, we’re going to probably have more of these accidents unless we follow the rules and regulations of the ordinance.” 

TWEET @DominionPostWV