Governor signs 'Laura's Law' for tougher DWI punishment

Laura Fortenberry .
Laura Fortenberry .

RALEIGH, NC (WBTV/AP) - The mother of a teen killed in a car wreck by a repeat drunken driver says a law signed by North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue will prevent others from having to go through the same pain.

Perdue signed four bills at a ceremony Thursday, including what's called "Laura's Law," named after 17-year-old Laura Fortenberry of Gaston County. A motorist sentenced for second-degree murder in her death last year had multiple previous driving-while-impaired offenses.

The girl's mother, Michelle Armstrong, hugged Perdue at the signing ceremony in the old Capitol building. The law will require certain repeat DWI offenders to receive from one to three years in prison.

Another bill signed into law will change sentence and probation rules to keep better track of offenders and discourage recidivism.

The NC House had already approved the bill aimed at toughening North Carolina's DWI laws and cracking down on repeat drunk drivers.

House Bill 49, better known as "Laura's Law", passed its third reading in a vote of 118-0 in the NC House months ago.

Laura's Law is named in honor of Laura Fortenbury. The Gaston County teenager was murdered by repeat drunk driver Howard Pasour in July of 2010 when he ran into her.

Pasour had three prior DWI convictions. Police say he was once again drunk when he hit Fortenbury. He was sentenced for her death and could spend the next 28 years behind bars.

Under the bill, anyone convicted of impaired driving in North Carolina under certain aggravating factors would face more time behind bars and higher fines.

Earlier this year, Republican state representative Tim Moore of Cleveland County unveiled the law in Raleigh aimed at cracking down on repeat DWI offenders.

Efforts for the law began last summer when Laura's mom, Michelle Armstrong, spoke with Anchor Molly Grantham live on the radio just 18 hours after she buried her daughter.

Moore gives a lot of the credit for the creation of the bill to Laura's mother.

"It was Michelle Armstrong taking the time to get out and take this tragedy with her daughter and try to turn it into something positive, and we've now seen it pass the House unanimously," Moore said.

The bill would require an impaired driving offender to receive a one- to three-year prison sentence if there are three grossly aggravating factors - like the person is a repeat offender or caused serious injury. The toughest current punishment requires at least 30 days in jail.

Former Representative Wil Neumann was listening to WBT Radio last summer and called in during the radio show. He told both women he wanted to do something.

He got with Moore and together they co-authored the bill.

Copyright 2011 WBTV. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.