Strasburg fire captain convicted of drunken driving

WINCHESTER – The operations captain of the Strasburg Volunteer Fire Department pleaded guilty Thursday to drunken driving in a case that several department members have cited as evidence of mismanagement of personnel by the department’s hierarchy.

Frederick County General District Court Judge William W. Eldridge IV ordered Dale King’s license suspended for a year, except for certain uses that include driving to and from work and answering emergency calls from the fire department. King was also fined $250 plus court costs and given a one-year suspended jail sentence.

In a brief interview after the hearing, King said he would not be driving fire department vehicles during the suspension, although his sentence did not include any provisions governing his duties at the fire station.

King had no other comments.

King’s case was cited among a list of complaints that three members of the fire department have submitted to the town council, Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors and several other town and county officials.

The letters have denounced Chief Jeff Wharton for failing to crack down on violations of department rules and policies, several of which were described as alcohol related. The letters said King avoided disciplinary action on the drunk driving charge through internal maneuvers and relationships.

Court records state that King blew a 0.15 reading on a blood alcohol test given at 3:29 a.m. May 13 after he was pulled over by a Frederick County sheriff’s deputy on Martinsburg Pike. The legal blood alcohol limit in Virginia is 0.08.

The deputy wrote in a complaint that he noticed King’s vehicle “driving in the turn lane with its driver side tires.”

The deputy stated in a written complaint that he followed the vehicle for a mile and watched as it “crossed the fog line four times and the center line three times.”

King was cited for drunk driving and driving 62 mph in a 45 mph zone. The speeding charge was dropped in court Thursday.

Strasburg fire department president Chris Ritenour and Wharton did not return phone messages seeking comment on King’s case.

Shenandoah County Fire Chief Gary Yew said he had no comment.

Town Council member Rich Orndorff Jr. said he didn’t have “a whole lot of comment.”

“Dale has been a dedicated volunteer for many years,” Orndorff said, adding, “I know there are rules and regulations about his driving of emergency apparatus, but I don’t see where that hinders him being a firefighter.”

Council member Robert Baker said the town government has no authority over internal disciplinary procedures and administrative issues in the fire department, which is a non-profit, volunteer organization.

“We have to trust them to take care of whatever they take care of and do what they think is appropriate,” Baker said.

Council member Don Le Vine called King’s status in the fire department “totally an internal matter.”

“The town council has no formal or informal control on administrative matters and therefore it is inappropriate for me as a town council member to become involved in any administrative matters at the fire department,” Le Vine said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com