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Editorial: Rush to judgment

A teenager from Douglas Manor has learned the hard way just how cruel the world could be. On Thursday evening, July 11, Robert Arnold lost his best friend in a tragic boating accident that claimed two victims. Arnold was driving when his family's boat collided with another boat in Little Neck Bay killing one passenger in each.

Police were still searching the Bayside Marina for the bodies of the victims on Friday when the morning papers and television news announced that Arnold was being charged with operating the boat while intoxicated. Not waiting for test results that would show whether Arnold was drunk or under the influence of drugs, the Queens District Attorney brought felony charges against the young man who had never been in trouble with the law.

On the following Monday, tests revealed Arnold had a blood alcohol content of just .01, well below the .06 legal threshold for impairment and the 0.9 standard for driving under the influence of alcohol. In other words, this kid wasn't even close to being drunk. The District Attorney's office announced it was dropping the DWI charges but was still waiting to see if there were any traces of illegal drugs in Arnold's blood. There were not.

The DA is still investigating to see Arnold was driving his boast recklessly on the night of the accident.

New evidence suggests that the DA may have been barking up the wrong tree. The driver of the other boat, John Kondogianis, had a drug conviction in his past. Moreover, law enforcement sources now say they found a small amount of cocaine in Kondogianis' boat. They also say that some witnesses have told them that Kondogianis did not have his running lights on.

We don't see the need for the rush in charging Arnold. This is a kid with strong roots in the community who is planning to enter college in the fall. The police were correct in ordering Arnold to submit to a blood test when he refused to submit to a breathalyzer test after a police thought he smelled alcohol on Arnold's breath. But why couldn't they wait to charge him until the test results came back?

Is it possible that a tragedy in which two lives were lost was compounded by a District Attorney's office all too eager to get headlines and a media all too willing to assist? You bet. The Arnold family has every right to be furious. Their son has been raked over the coals. In this story there is plenty of shame too go around.

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