Ellen Marie Rix thought she was helping out the driver of the car when she switched seats after a Virginia Beach policeman pulled over the vehicle. Bad move – and not just because the policeman saw the switch.
The other occupant of the car, Veselina Stoilova, subsequently testified that she asked Rix to switch seats because she did not have her driver’s license. Rix testified that she moved because she feared Stoilova would be deported if she was arrested.
The difference in testimony might have been because neither woman was thinking too clearly at the time. Both were convicted of drunken driving, the first offense for Stoilova but the second for Rix, who also was convicted of refusing to take a blood or breath test.
Stoilova pleaded guilty and was fined $250 and ordered to pay $186 in court costs, but Rix appealed.
She contended that she couldn’t be convicted because she never actually operated the car. Neither Virginia Beach Circuit Judge William R. O’Brien nor Court of Appeals Judge Elizabeth A. McClanahan was impressed by that argument.
Cases from Supreme Court of Virginia and the Court of Appeals have held operation of a motor vehicle encompasses more than putting a vehicle in motion, McClanahan wrotetoday. In this case, Rix was behind the wheel with the engine running, which gave her “actual physical control of the vehicle” and made her the operator of it.
By Alan Cooper