Tuesday, February 08, 2011

No Rush To Judgement Needed For Annett

NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Michael Annett was arrested early Sunday morning in Mooresville, NC and charged with driving while intoxicated, texting while driving, failure to reduce speed and resisting an officer. According to police, Annett had a blood alcohol content of .32; exactly four times the legal limit. He reportedly resisted an officer’s attempt to handcuff him, leading to an additional charge of resisting an officer.

Since news of his arrest broke late Monday, many in the NASCAR community have called for the sanctioning body to take action, suspending Annett from SpeedWeeks 2011 at Daytona, or even for the entire season. Annett’s charges are serious, but at present, they are nothing more than charges. Until Annett has his day in court – complete with an opportunity to present whatever defense he and his attorneys are able to muster – he is innocent until proven guilty. Until the courts have their say, a rush to judgement by NASCAR, its fans or the media is both unnecessary and premature.

Annett is not the first NASCAR driver to be charged with DUI. Most recently, AJ Allmendinger was arrested in October of 2009 after registering .08 on a breathalyzer test following a routine traffic stop. NASCAR placed Allmendinger on probation for the remainder of the season, but did not suspend him from competition. Annett should be treated equally.

There is no doubt that Michael Annett displayed a serious lack of judgement by climbing behind the wheel Sunday morning. There is no defending his actions, and no attempt from this corner to minimize their severity. However, there is also no need for NASCAR to begin playing judge, jury and executioner.

Annett will almost certainly pay a heavy price for his mistake. Court costs, attorney fees, fines and other expenses routinely top $10,000 for DUI-related offenses, and Rusty Wallace Racing said yesterday that they will institute their own sanctions, including “a zero tolerance policy toward alcohol use, a yearlong community service program and… successful completion of a comprehensive alcohol awareness program.”

While Annett will drive in next week’s Nationwide season opener at Daytona, Wallace called the 24-year old driver’s situation, “something I don't take lightly at all. It's embarrassing for everybody. He's hurt his team, himself and everybody.” Annett has not spoken with the media since his arrest, but released a statement saying, "I am deeply remorseful for my actions and my extreme lack of judgment. I let down my team, my sponsors, my fans and my family. I sincerely apologize to everyone that I hurt.

“This was truly a life-changing moment for me,” he said. “Despite all of the negativity that will undoubtedly arise from it, I'm going to strive to use this incident as the impetus to make a lot of positive changes in my life."

He is set to appear in court next month.

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