Tennessee/Virginia trending different ways in terms of drunk driving crashes


WASHINGTON CO., Va. - Prevention efforts from Southwest Virginia law enforcement agencies appear to be helping cut down the number of alcohol related fatalities.

On New Years Day, 21-year-old Thomas Estep of Norton, Virginia, was killed in an accident by a man charged with drunk driving. It's one of two deadly crashes caused by drivers accused of driving drunk in Southwest Virginia so far this year. That's fewer deaths than last year, which by the end of the year, six people were killed, according to the state's Department of Motor Vehicles.

"Law Enforcement, certainly on the state and local level, are doing everything they can from a standpoint to try to fix these numbers," Washington County, Virginia Sheriff Fred Newman says. "Over the last year or so, they've been relatively successful in doing that."

The rate of fatalities hasn't been released yet in Northeast Tennessee, but alcohol related crashes are on the rise. So far in 2017, 149 wrecks have been reported, which is up 13 percent from last year. That's according to the state's Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

Across the nation, drugs have overtaken alcohol as the leading cause of deadly traffic crashes.

"We are seeing more driving under the influence of drugs, or DUIDs," Sheriff Newman says. "It's not so much alcohol."

The Estep family is partnering with the Southwest Virginia 4-H Education Center to keep Thomas' legacy as a guitarist alive.

"Thomas was a very, very well known musician in this region," Robyn Raines, director of the Southwest Virginia 4-H Camp, says. "We're working with the family to work on scholarship funds that will provide a camp scholarship, which is an all inclusive opportunity for a music student."

In the crash that killed Estep, Dale Morgan Donnells of Maryland is facing charges of Involuntary Manslaughter and Driving Under the Influence. His case has been bound over to the Russell County Grand Jury for possible indictment.

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