Miss U of A Pleads Not Guilty To DWI Charges

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Miss University of Arkansas pleaded not guilty Monday morning in Fayetteville District Court to charges she drove drunk less than a month before claiming her crown.

Sarah Gafvert, 21, was arrested Sept. 26 on suspicion of misdemeanor driving while intoxicated, having an expired driver's license, having an expired vehicle license and failure to use a turn signal. She pleaded not guilty to all charges against her.

Gafvert's trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 16 in district court.

Gafvert was crowned Miss University of Arkansas on Oct. 21, less than a month after her Sept. 26 arrest.

Morton said Gafvert has no intention of relinquishing her Miss University of Arkansas crown.

Miss University of Arkansas' attorney told 5NEWS diabetes could have affected her field sobriety test the night she was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.

Bo Morton said he wants the case to go to trial, believing Gafvert to be innocent. She is a newly diagnosed diabetic whose blood sugar level was tested that morning at the jail and was determined to be abnormal, he said.

The lawyer said the blood sugar level could be at issue in how she performed in field sobriety and blood alcohol tests.

Pageant coordinators declared Gafvert eligible for competition following her DWI arrest, according to a statement by the organization.

The Miss Arkansas Scholarship Pageant released a statement Friday saying Gafvert made pageant officials aware of her arrest and intent to fight the charges. The statement goes on to say Gafvert was deemed eligible to compete and that her pending legal issue has not been resolved.

Sarah Gafvert's attorney came to her defense with a statement and a list of accomplishments Thursday, saying her public service outweighs her recent arrest.

"Sarah is a serious student who gives freely of her time to humanitarian causes," Bo Morton said in a statement. "It is unfortunate that this single incident has attracted so much attention, and her many accomplishments so little."

Steve Voorhies, university spokesman, said pageant rules apparently require contestants to notify officials of such an incident.

Voorhies noted the pageant is a registered student organization, and its events are not official university functions. He added the student is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Morton noted in his statement that Gafvert was stopped by police for not using her turn signal, not for erratic driving. Her breathalyzer registered .13 percent. The legal alcohol limit while driving in Arkansas is .08 percent.

Morton went on to list several of Gafvert's accomplishments, including raising money for the Children's Miracle Network, her status as valedictorian in high school in Kansas and her 4.0 grade-point-average at the university last semester.

Morton submitted a letter to the court on Sept. 28, entering a not guilty plea on her behalf. Defendants are not required to appear at arraignments in city court. At arraignments, defendants are assigned a court date.

Toni Bahn, pageant co-executive director, said she could not comment on the incident or the student, but added officials are looking into what happened.

She would not say what the process is for determining whether the title and crown should be taken from Gafvert.

Fayetteville police stopped Gafvert at 2:12 a.m. on Sept. 26 at East Rockwood Trail and North Sequoya Drive, according to a Fayetteville District Court preliminary report.

Several minutes earlier she had been driving north on North Mission Boulevard but failed to signal a turn onto East Rockwood Trail, the report states.

The arresting officer said Gafvert had bloodshot and watery eyes and slurred speech. Her car gave off an odor of "intoxicants," the report states.

Gafvert performed "a battery" of field sobriety tests, indicating she was drunk, according to the report.

Gafvert had an expired drivers license, and the Mercedes had an expired tag, the report states.

Gafvert then was booked into the Washington County Detention Center, and at 3:37 a.m. registered .13 on a blood-alcohol test, the report states.

Gafvert was released from the detention center the same day on $1,200 bond, according to booking records from the center.