By Patricia Meade
Allowing an unlicensed driver to use your car can result in a charge of wrongful entrustment, as one city woman learned.
YOUNGSTOWN — Eddie Winphrie’s mother is paying the price for owning the car that her unlicensed son drove.
Cathy Butler, 43, was charged with wrongful entrustment of a motor vehicle after Patrolman Brian Booksing, an accident investigator, reviewed her son’s seven driving-under-suspension arrests. The wrongful-entrustment charge, a first-degree misdemeanor, is punishable by up to six months in jail and $1,000 fine.
Booksing said the charge is filed after a pattern is found in which the owner of a car is aware that the person driving it doesn’t have a valid license. He said when a driving-under-suspension arrest is made, the car is towed and held for release to the owner.
When the owners come to claim the car, they’re told they can be charged with wrongful entrustment should it happen again, Booksing said. Roughly two dozen men and women have been charged with wrongful entrustment so far this year, records show.
Bret Hartup, assistant city prosecutor, said a presumption in the law is that if the vehicle owner and unlicensed driver live together, the vehicle owner knows the driving status of the person using the vehicle. He said Butler came to his attention Nov. 12 when Patrolman Greg Miller noted in Winphrie’s arrest report that Winphrie keeps driving his mother’s cars.
Each of the seven times Winphrie, 25, of Hylda Avenue, has been charged with driving under suspension, he was driving a car belonging to his mother, reports show. The arrests began in August 2005.
The two most recent arrests were Oct. 29 and Nov. 12. Winphrie is due in court next month for pretrial hearings.
Butler, also of Hylda Avenue, said she knew her son’s license was suspended but thought he was having a friend with a valid license do the driving. Her son, she said, didn’t know police could arrest her.
She pleaded no contest in municipal court this past week. Judge Robert P. Milich found her guilty, fined her $100, placed her on one year’s probation and ordered that her car, a 1995 Chevrolet Caprice, be immobilized for 30 days.
Butler said it won’t happen again and she’s warning everyone she knows not to loan their cars to unlicensed drivers.
“I told all my friends, ‘Don’t do it; don’t do it!’ You love your family but, shoot, sometimes you got to let them go. They’re grown,” Butler said. “I’m spreading [the word] to everybody ... I don’t want what happened to me to happen to somebody else. If they don’t listen, it can happen to them and they can go to jail. I’m lucky I didn’t go to jail.”
Detective Sgt. Anita Davis said 44-year-old Ramona Gordon, of Dale Street, who owns a 1994 Pontiac but doesn’t have a valid license, brought her mother in this past week to claim the car after she was arrested for driving under suspension and hit-skip. Vehicles are released to a licensed driver if the owner’s license is suspended.
“We had an officer, Jimmy Rounds, near the tow yard and he saw [Gordon] coming out of the tow yard driving the car,” Davis said. “Rounds stopped her, charged her again with driving under suspension, and now the mother will be charged with wrongful entrustment.”
Davis said the mother was told she’d be charged if she let her daughter drive. “She said, ‘My daughter will not get this car,’ and then they went right down to the tow yard and got the car, and the daughter drove it.”
Gordon, too, was told about wrongful entrustment — a note goes on the vehicle release form — but had “zero regard,” Davis said.
Girlfriends often allow their boyfriends whose license is suspended to drive their cars, Davis said. It’s important, she said, to be responsible and not let suspended drivers use your car.
In late September, Davis pulled a Kia Sorento over that breezed through a stop sign on Edwards Street and discovered the driver, Odell Oakley, 38, of Woodland Avenue, was driving on a suspended license and wanted on several outstanding warrants. Cynthia Javey, 36, same address, his passenger and owner of the car, was charged with wrongful entrustment. She is due back in municipal court Dec. 10.
Hartup said a man who let his unlicensed brother drive was sentenced this past week in municipal court. Records show Vincent Tuchek, 38, of Imperial Street, convicted of wrongful entrustment, was fined $100 by Judge Robert A. Douglas Jr.