PORTLAND, Tenn. (WKRN) — Sumner County closed 785 driving under the influence (DUI) cases last year with an 89% conviction rate, partly thanks to a specialized prosecutor and coordinator funded by a grant with the Tennessee Highway Safety Office (THSO).
Sumner County first hired the DUI prosecutor, a former Hendersonville police officer, and a DUI coordinator in 2021 to focus solely on prosecuting DUI and vehicular homicide cases.
District Attorney Ray Whitley told News 2 the DUI prosecutor has been highly successful.
“We have a very hard line that we take here in Sumner County on DUIs and vehicular homicides, and we have to hold people accountable,” Whitley said. “At the same time, for multiple offenders, we try to get them treatment so that they won’t continue to offend once they ever get back out on the street.”
Sumner County recently received a grant from the THSO to continue the DUI prosecutor program, which Whitley said many other counties in the state have taken advantage of too.
The program gives victims’ family members like Tanya Read — whose 17-year-old son, Nick Townsend, died after being hit by a drunk driver in May 2015 — hope that impaired drivers will be held accountable.
“I know, fundamentally, impaired drivers are not bad people. They have made a terrible, horrible choice to get behind the wheel, but it is so common that, unfortunately, there has to be some punishment to go with it,” Read said. “And the victims, myself included, but the victims that are not yet victims, the survivors that have to experience this, they deserve justice.”
Read told News 2 on May 15, 2015, Townsend was heading home after volunteering at the Special Olympics with his girlfriend and her parents when they were hit head-on by a drunk driver on Highway 52 in Portland. Townsend was set to graduate high school the following day, but instead he was rushed to the hospital, where he died two days after the crash.
“What happened to Nick was absolutely avoidable, it was absolutely senseless, and it is absolutely way too common. It was then, and it still is now,” Read said.
According to police, Laura Beasley was driving under the influence that evening with her 2-year-old in the back seat when she collided with Townsend’s car. She pleaded guilty to several charges and was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2017. Read said she served less than half her sentence before being released on parole.
In the years since losing her son, Read has dedicated her life to advocating against impaired driving and promoting organ donation. However, she said as much as she loves and is passionate about the causes, she wishes they never impacted her life the way they did.