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Five days for drunk driver in East High Street business-closing wreck

A drunken mid-March automobile crash that mowed down street trees, cracked a sidewalk, closed an intersection, polluted a stream and put an urgent care medical center out of business for a week has resulted in five days in jail for the driver.

40-year-old Gordon O’Neil Durrett has accepted a guilty plea to a charge of driving while intoxicated and will serve five days of a 90-day sentence.

“I bet you totaled your car,” said Judge Andrew Sneathern. “That’s very expensive.”

The crash occurred around 10 p.m. March 16 when a black SUV traveling eastbound on High Street hopped the curb and took out three young fruit trees on its way to swiping the brick facade of a recently-opened Sentara medical office building. The crash also destroyed a three-transformer utility pole at the intersection with 10th Street and Locust Avenue.

In court Thursday, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina-Alice Antony said that a police officer reported that the driver was unable to stand without assistance and that his condition precluded a safe attempt of a field sobriety test. She said that Durrett’s blood-alcohol content, when measured at the jail, was .18, which is more than twice the legal driving limit.

The impact of the ensuing fall of transformers from a Dominion energy pole cracked the concrete sidewalk below, and the transformers’ insulating mineral oil leaked into a city storm drain and washed into Meade Creek. Dominion hired a contractor to remediate the creek.

Despite an approximately 12-hour closure of the intersection to erect a new utility pole, underground wire damage kept Sentara’s 43,318 square-foot medical office building, which had opened in November with a Velocity Urgent Care center, without power for a week.

Durrett’s lawyer, Mark Duda of the public defender’s office, said that his client would report to the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail at 5 p.m. on May 11 to begin serving the five-day active sentence.

Conditions of the plea agreement included a $250 fine, a year of good behavior, and participation in an alcohol education program. The prosecutor proposed a year-long driver’s license loss until Duda proposed an adjustment.

“He is asking for a traditional restricted license for purposes of work,” Duda told the court.

The judge agreed and demanded an ignition interlock that would require Durrett to blow into a tube to start a vehicle’s engine before driving to work or to attend an alcohol consultation.

“I hope this is something behind you,” Judge Sneathern said at the conclusion of the hearing.

Both Duda and his client declined comment afterwards.


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