HARTMAN — A Johnson County 12-year-old now holds the distinction of being one of the youngest Arkansans to face a charge of driving while under the influence.
County prosecutor Bruce Wilson said Friday that he will charge a Hartman preteen with the violation and several other misdemeanor charges in district and juvenile court in Johnson County.
The trouble began when the boy had a 10-year-old friend sleep over at his home on May 4, Johnson County Sheriff Jimmy Dorney said.
After the parents went to sleep, the boys found some of the adults’ beer and “got liquored up,” Dorney said.
The pair then stole the keys to the 12-year-old’s stepfather’s company-owned pickup, Dorney said, and set out to find a girl they had met at a rodeo.
The boys made it about 10 miles before the 12-year-old lost control of the vehicle and wrecked along Arkansas 352, about one mile from the Johnson-Franklin county line.
The accident happened along a stretch of road in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains near the Dirty Creek overpass. Tire marks show where the truck struck the guardrail and jumped it, then careened 50 feet down a steep hill into a forest. There the truck hit a fence and rolled onto its side.
This week, a headlight was still wrapped in the barb wire of the broken fence. Two bottles of Coors Lite and an empty Cheetos bag sat nearby.
The sheriff’s deputy who responded to the accident estimated that there was at least $ 12, 500 in damage to the truck. He had to call a wrecker to pull it out of the forest.
Clark James, 46, who lives down the road from the accident site, said he answered the boys ’ banging at his front door with shotgun in hand about 2: 30 a.m.
“I opened the door and the first thing [the 12-year-old ] said to me was, ‘I’m drunk and I had a wreck, ’” James said.
“I looked at him and I thought ‘ You’re kind of young to be out drinking. And you sure shouldn’t be driving. ’” James said he called the police immediately.
The Hartman boy later told a sheriff’s deputy that he had two or three drinks. His eyes were red, bloodshot and glassy, Dorney said.
The 10-year-old was bleeding, James said, and the 12-year-old complained of chest pain. Neither of the boys was seriously injured, however.
Paramedics took the pair to Johnson Regional Medical Center, where nurses drew blood to test blood-alcohol content. The test results were not released Friday.
The 12-year-old was not arrested that night because of his age, Dorney said.
But he will be charged with driving under the influence in addition to careless driving, driving with no license, driving with no seat belt and the unauthorized use of a motor vehicle — all misdemeanors, Dorney said.
The 10-year-old will face a misdemeanor charge of public intoxication.
News reports suggest the Hartman boy isn’t the youngest in the nation to face DUI charges.
The Associated Press reported that an 11-year-old was charged with DUI in July 2007 after leading Alabama police on an eightmile chase at speeds up to 100 miles per hour.
The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration Office of Driver Services keeps a database of DUI convictions dating back 50 years. But officials hadn’t determined Friday whether the Hartman child is the youngest Arkansan to face such charges.
But Teresa Belew, executive director of the Arkansas chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said the 12-year-old is the youngest person she’s heard of to face a DUI charge in the Natural State.
The case should serve as notice to parents who haven’t had frank discussions with their children about the dangers of alcohol, Belew said.
The average age of first alcohol use among Arkansans is about 12 years old, according to the Arkansas Department of Human Services Office of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention.
“It’s both a teachable moment and a wake-up call,” Belew said. “On so many levels, there were scary things happening that night.” Wilson said the 12-year-old could face a variety of sanctions ranging from probation, to courtmandated community service and alcohol rehabilitation, to commitment to the state Department of Human Services’ Youth Services Division.
In addition, James bets that both Johnson County boys are grounded for life.
“If not, then they should be,” he said.