Published 12:00 am Friday, July 6, 2007

Laurel to the increase in North Carolina’s conviction rate for drunk driving cases. A Charlotte Observer study found that 72 percent of people charged with driving while impaired who took their cases to trial in 2006 were convicted, compared to 63 percent in 2003. Cabarrus and Rowan counties had a high rate, with 78 percent of the DWI suspects either pleading guilty or being convicted at trial. It would be interesting to know the details about the other 22 percent. These days a blood alcohol content of .08 or more makes conviction all but automatic. That’s as it should be. The message is clear, at least in this part of North Carolina ó if you’re charged with drunken driving, chances of wriggling your way out of a conviction are mighty slim. The best way to prevent accidents caused by drunken drivers is to keep them off the road in the first place.
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Dart to a fish story that had some serious bite. An angler casting into the Catawba River last week reeled in a 1-pound piranha, a sharp-toothed carnivore that has provided the (exaggerated) feeding frenzy for many a grade-B jungle movie. While scientists say piranha aren’t the ravenous maneaters depicted in popular culture, they’re about as welcome in the Catawba as a leaky oil tanker. This one probably traveled the same path as a a snakehead fish snagged earlier this year in Lake Wylie. Somebody caught them elsewhere and transported them to North Carolina, oblivious to the environmental harm such interlopers can cause. Moral of the story: If you really want to swim with the piranha, go to the Amazon. We don’t need another ecological horror story here.
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Laurels to Elizabeth Cress Patton, who for 26 years has been the face and heart of the Rape, Family and Child Abuse Crisis Council ó and the driving force behind it. When Patton took the job of Crisis Council executive director, a shelter for battered women was still just a dream, spousal abuse was a dark secret, and rape carried a stigma that made many women loathe to press charges. Though families still hide secrets, public attitudes toward victims of such crimes have changed tremendously through the years. So have the services available to them. Patton has been at the forefront of increasing awareness and programs. The Shelter for Battered Women is the most obvious symbol of that progress. It gives safe haven to women trying to escape abusive relationships, and it provides room for their children, as well. Less visible but just as important are the support groups the council hosts ó for children who witness domestic violence, for incest and rape survivors and for men dealing with anger problems. The list of programs goes on. Through it all, Patton has led the Crisis Council with compassion and wisdom. She has touched more lives than she may ever know.

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