UPDATE: Petition pushes for stricter penalties after Ritter Park crash

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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- UPDATE 8/30/18 @ 6:03 p.m.
It's been exactly a month since a driver overdosed on heroin and slammed into a light pole in Huntington's Ritter Park, just feet from the playground.

Parents, kids and park staff are still dealing with the trauma-- and now there's a new push to create stricter punishments for those behind the wheel.

Darrah Cain and her family haven't been to the playground since that day.

"Some days we don't think about it at all and there's still sometimes where we'll have a mini flashback, just that jolt, kind of that bolt of anxiety just thinking what could have been... what if, what if," Cain said.

The driver and passenger received misdemeanor charges for the crash.

Parks Director Kevin Brady says that's not enough.

"I want people in general, especially drug addicts, to know that regardless of what you do, this is sacred ground, this is protected property, this is not the place to do bad things," Brady said.

As the law stands, schools are considered protected property, but places like parks are not. Therefore the punishments are not as strict.

"If you're caught with opioids, if you're dealing opioids, if you're in possession of or overdosing on opioids at a school it's an automatic felony and those penalties for those felonies are tougher than if you do it in a parking lot someplace else," Brady said. "I need our parks protected just like the schools are. I need all kids to be safe."

Brady has started a petition that pushes for parks, playgrounds and open public green spaces to be considered protected property.

The petition already has more than 1,200 signatures.

State Sen. Mike Woelfel says he plans to sponsor a bill that would change the law -- creating stricter punishments for this type of crime and likely bumping the charges from a misdemeanor to a felony wanton endangerment charge.

You can view the petition by visiting https://www.ghprd.org/.



UPDATE 8/2/18 @ 5:57 p.m.
Thursday brought the first look at the two people who were inside the car that slammed into a light pole at the Ritter Park playground on Monday, right in the middle of kids and their parents.

As we already reported, Tabitha and Bradley Wyrick face misdemeanor charges because prosecutors say they can't charge them with anything more serious.

They refused to talk to us again Thursday, but their neighbors are shocked.

When Bradley saw we were outside his mobile home, he threatened to call the police.

Tabitha appeared just a minute later and didn’t respond to our requests for comment, covering her face covered as she went inside, retrieved her dog, then walking away.

Raychell Stephens lives two doors down and is a longtime friend of the Wyricks.

"They're good people," she said. "It kind of shocked me because they've both been clean."

She said there's been no sign of drug use. They've been quiet and kept to themselves, though other neighbors disagree.

Stephens is a recovering addict, three years clean, thanks to the motivation of her son who turns 3 on Friday.

As for Monday's events at the park, "I can't defend them on that because it's the wrong place. Anywhere is the wrong place, but you have a home, do it inside of it."

Nancy Riley is the landlord of Village Green Mobile Home Park on 8th Street Road and also lives directly across the street.

"Of course I immediately recognized the names," she said.

She said the rules are clear, absolutely no drugs allowed.

Riley said the Wyricks have been good tenants since they moved there in May 2017, but she'll be evicting them immediately.

"Extra income is handy, but I don't need it that bad,” Riley said. “That's the reason I was so shocked. I just didn't even suspect."

Stephens said because of her past, she doesn't see them differently. She hopes Monday's wreck is their wake-up call.

"Maybe this is what they needed,” she said.

Meanwhile, other neighbors tell us the Wyricks are a nuisance and have fought so loudly they've called the police. But they said they were too afraid to go on camera.



UPDATE 8/1/18 @ 10 p.m.
Parents like Darrah Cain and children are dealing with the aftershocks after a driver overdosed and slammed her car into a light pole at Ritter Park on Monday afternoon.

"I nonchalantly mentioned to my 5-year-old, ‘I think we're going to stop by the park for a few minutes,’” Caine said. “Before I could even finish the sentence, she said, ‘No, no, mommy, no, no, no, I don't want to go to the park.’"

Police and prosecutors tell us, laws need changing because they can only charge the driver with misdemeanors.

But not everyone agrees.

“Every time I close my eyes, I can see that car," Cain said.

The car that went straight into a pole missed her and her baby by about 8 feet. The tracks still visible in the mud Wednesday.

Even 48 hours later, her oldest daughter was too frightened to meet us for an interview at the park. Cain herself avoided driving by Tuesday, but said Wednesday was a new day.

"Maybe physically no one was injured but what those children saw and heard, what the adults saw and heard, I know I will not soon forget,” she said.

Amy White was at the park Monday afternoon with her two sons when the crash happened. Her feeling of outrage resurfaced when she learned the people in the car who police say overdosed were only charged with misdemeanors and had already bonded out of jail.

"They can overdose, drive through a crowded park, crash a vehicle, and they walk away with a misdemeanor," White said. "It is absurd. Something needs to change before someone gets killed. We're enabling them to do it again."

Greater Huntington Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Brady left minutes before the incident with his grandkids, only because the line for free snow cones was too long.

"This is a terrible tragedy that was averted," he told us Tuesday night. "It is a crime to do heroin. They need to start paying like a criminal does. If you do the crime, you need to do time."

But police said the most they can charge driver Tabitha Wyrick with are misdemeanor counts of DUI and reckless driving. Husband Bradley Wyrick was also in the car and faces lesser ones of drug possession and permitting DUI because it was his car, too.

Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial said they turned themselves in Tuesday night, in part because of the publicity. But they are already out on bond after less than a day in jail. Tabitha’s was $15,000 and Bradley’s was $10,000.

"Laws in our country our often reactionary," Dial said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Dial said drug laws needs updating, particularly for those who drive impaired on drugs or alcohol near public parks, churches and schools. He thinks it might be most appropriate to make part of the wanton endangerment statute, a crime which currently only applies to guns.

Recent stats show officers are making more arrests for impairment due to drugs than alcohol. Of 121 DUI arrests so far in 2018, 85 were just for drug-impairment and six additional arrests for a combination of drugs and alcohol.

Dial said if any good can come out of Monday’s events, it will be to serve as a catalyst for change.

"I do not refer to these as accidents because they're not accidents,” he said. “They are intentional crimes of driving in an impaired state and going out and putting people at risk."

Recovery Point Program Director Ray McWilliams agrees, "I do believe each and every person should be held accountable for their actions."

But he said making felonies out of crimes where people need treatment is not the answer. Even if it happens in a location in a place like a park, he said it shouldn't matter.

"No, I still say people should be given a fair and equal trial for everybody," McWilliams said.

But the ‘what ifs’ still echo in Cain's mind, most notably what if she or her kids had been just a few feet closer.

She said before that moment she had been most worried if her kids needed sunscreen or the proper amount of adult supervision.

But she’s still conflicted. She said she’s empathetic to a fault and 100 percent for recovery, but the current criminal code doesn’t address the level of amount of danger and trauma that she and others experienced. That’s why she believes stronger penalties are necessary.

"The peace of mind that was taken from me, and I feel like the innocence that was stolen from those families and our children that day, it's going to take awhile to rebuild that,” she said.

Both Tabitha and Bradley Wyrick refused our interview request at the jail before they were released.

Cabell County Prosecutor Corky Hammers tells us, he's talked to other prosecutors who agree the only charges available are misdemeanors, but he'll be asking lawmakers to make change to the code.

“The safety of our citizens, especially our children, is my number one priority always,” Hammers said in a statement.



UPDATE 8/1/18 @ 3:55 p.m.
Huntington Police are calling for stricter penalties for people who drive impaired in public places like parks, they announced during a news conference Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a couple taken into custody Monday after their car crashed into a busy Ritter Park playground faces charges.

Police say Tabitha Wyrick, the driver, is charged with driving under the influence and reckless driving. Officers say she was high on drugs when she crashed the car into a light pole.

Her husband, Bradley Wyrick, is charged with permitting DUI and simple possession. Police say heroin was found under his seat in the car.

Both of the Wyricks were administered Narcan at the scene.

On Monday, Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial said the couple would be vigorously prosecuted, something he touched upon again during Wednesday's news conference.

Keep checking WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 7/30/18 @ 8 p.m.
The names of a couple arrested after a car crashed Monday afternoon near a busy Ritter Park playground have been released.

Tabitha Wyrick, the driver, is being charged with driving under the influence and reckless driving, Huntington Police say. They say she was high on drugs when she crashed the car into a light pole.

Her husband, Brad Wyrick, a passenger in the car, is being charged with permitting DUI and simple possession. Police say heroin was found under his seat in the car.

Both of the Wyricks were administered Narcan at the scene.

Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial said the couple will be vigorously prosecuted.

"This will not be tolerated," Dial said. "Both individuals will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We have the National Drug Recognition Expert Officer of the year investigating the case. "

Police say the incident happened just after 3 p.m. when there were several parents and kids in the park.

Amy White's two kids were at the playground when the crash happened.

"Pick a different place away from everyone's kids, away from my kids," White said. "They don't want to be around this. I don't want to be around this. It's not fair to them. They're innocent children."

Parent Chrissy Harris said she and some friends were sitting on the ground just a few feet away from the vehicle as it went by.

"We were just relaxing and letting the kids play on the playground and not following them around to each station and just trying to give them their space to play," Harris said. "Then this happens. It reminds me as a mom why I'm so vigilant about my child's safety."

Keep checking WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest information.



ORIGINAL STORY 7/30/18
A driver high on drugs crashed Monday afternoon near a busy playground in Ritter Park, Huntington Police say.

Two people are under arrest – both the driver and passenger.

It happened just after 3 p.m. as the car was leaving the area near the playground. Police say the driver, a woman, drove into the grass and crashed into a light pole a few feet from that playground.

That woman was given Narcan, and a male passenger also had overdosed and was given Narcan. Police say they also found drugs inside the car.

Officers say the woman will be charged with driving under the influence, and more charges are likely.

The passenger will be charged with permitting DUI.

Police say the playground area was crowded at the time with kids and parents. Parents told our crew at the scene that it’s disgusting they can’t bring their kids to the park without worrying about something like this happening.

The car has since been towed away.

Keep checking WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest information.




 
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