By Jeff Rivenbark - email
CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The mother of a teen girl who was killed in an accident involving a drunk driver in Gaston County last Sunday says she is determined to speak out for changes to the laws which govern habitual DWI offenders.
Laura Fortenberry, 17, of Lowell, was killed after the car in which she was riding in crashed head-on with a vehicle driven by Howard Pasour, 28, of Bessemer City. (Click here to read WBTV's previous coverage of this story.)
Pasour, who has been charged with second-degree murder in the incident, was allegedly passing several cars when his Jeep Cherokee collided head-on with the car Fortenberry was in, the North Carolina Highway Patrol said. Pasour has three previous DWI convictions.
One day after Fortenberry's funeral service, her mother, Michelle Armstrong, spoke with WBTV's Molly Grantham Friday morning, as Grantham substituted for host Keith Larson on WBT Radio.
Even though the events this week have left Armstrong emotionally and physically drained, she says memories of her daughter continues to motivate her.
"When I laid down last night, I talked to her and she said ‘No momma, keep going, you have to keep going,' " Armstrong said. "I know its her keeping me strong. "
Armstrong said she knows her daughter would not want her to just grieve without doing something to change the laws pertaining to drunk drivers.
"She would not want me to just lay down and cry," Armstrong said.
Fortenberry was a 2010 graduate of North Gaston High School and she was enrolled with DeVry University. In fact, Fortenberry had been taking classes for about three weeks, her mother said. In an interview earlier this week, Fortenberry's grandfather said she wanted to become an FBI agent.
Despite her grief, Armstrong told Grantham she wanted to do the radio interview because she didn't want people to forget about the man who she says took her daughter's life.
"I have to let it be known what happened to her," she said.
The wreck occurred on Dallas-Cherryville Highway around 9 p.m. on Sunday. Click here to listen to the 911 calls concerning the fatal wreck.
Armstrong said she was communicating online with a friend when she was informed about a wreck on the highway in which a 17-year-old had been killed.
Armstrong told Grantham she immediately suspected her daughter was dead because her daughter never came home late. Armstrong hoped the reason why her daughter was late was because she was delayed by the accident.
"Hug your kids today, tell them you love them today because you don't have tomorrow or five minutes from now," Armstrong said. "I don't want anyone to go through my pain."
Authorities say Pasour was driving drunk on the two-lane road when his Jeep crossed the center line and struck the car in which Fortenberry was a passenger.
Pasour was charged with second-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon. During his bond hearing on Tuesday, a judge increased Pasour's bond amount from $2 million to $4 million.
During the radio interview on Friday, Grantham asked Armstrong if she knew the man who is accused of causing the wreck which took her daughter's life.
Armstrong said she use to rent from Howard Pasour's family and that "They're really good people."
However, she does attribute quite a bit of blame for her daughter's death against Pasour's father. Armstrong claims Pasour's father bailed his son out of jail repeatedly and even gave his son the money to hire an attorney to fight his prior charges.
"If you give him [Howard Pasour] money to hire a lawyer, and you bail him out every time he gets in trouble, then I'm giving you some of the blame," she said. "You are letting him back out on the streets. You know the person you're dealing with, you know the person your son is, and you are bailing him out and giving him another try to kill somebody like he killed my child. I mean, how many times are you gonna bail him out? You're giving him the gun to murder somebody. Why would you do that?"
When asked what type of punishment should be given to repeat DWI offenders, Armstrong replied, "I don't know what should be done, but you can't give someone three chances to take somebody's life."
During the radio interview, Armstrong managed to hold back her tears of grief.
"I know that if some of these higher officials were having to deal with what I'm having to deal with right now, I think that might change the laws, but why should we have to wait?" she asked. "We should not have to wait until a lawyer, a judge or someone's daughter like that dies before something gets passed."
Pasour has had three previous DWI convictions, according to court records. In fact, he was ordered to wear an ankle bracelet after his third impaired driving conviction last year, but North Carolina law doesn't require an individual to wear the bracelet more than 60 days.
"I know they need to make them wear the ankle bracelet longer," Armstrong said.
Armstrong said she feels confident that police are doing their job to charge drunk driving offenders, but she says the court system is to blame.
"It's the court system that is allowing him to get out of jail," she said. "It's the judicial system that is letting him out."
When Grantham asked Armstrong what her next course of action is, she said, "I'm gonna change something, I don't know how, but I'm gonna do it."
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