(FAYETTVILLE, Ark.) — The newly crowned Miss University of Arkansas is fending off criticism that the DUI charges filed against her before her Sunday victory tarnish her crown.
“It is shocking to me because I did look up to her, and I was hoping that she would be able to not do something like that,” student Meredith Sakora told ABC affiliate KHOG-TV.
Sarah Gafvert, a senior, has entered a not guilty plea.
All contestants are required to sign a contract to enter the competition in which they must verify that they have no criminal charges pending against them. Gafvert signed the form before her Sept. 26 arrest, her lawyer, Bo Morton, said.
And she told pageant coordinators about the arrest before Sunday’s pageant, Morton said.
The pageant is a student-sponsored event that is not organized by the university, John Diamond, the associate vice chancellor for the university, told ABC News. The competition is a preliminary event to the city and state pageants and, as the new Miss University of Arkansas, Gafvert, 21, is scheduled to compete in the 2013 Miss Arkansas pageant.
The Miss Arkansas Scholarship Pageant Inc. had “validated that, according to the Miss America Organization, Sarah Gafvert was deemed eligible to compete in the 2013 Miss University of Arkansas pageant,” it said in a statement.
But she might also be subject to a student-conduct review, Diamond said.
Gafvert, originally from Wichita, Kan., was pulled over at 1:55 a.m. Sept. 26 for failing to use her turn signal and swerving within her lane, a police report obtained by ABC News states. She had bloodshot and watery eyes, slurred speech and the smell of intoxicants in her car, according to the report. She was also driving on an expired license, the report notes.
“The allegation is she failed to use her turn signal,” attorney Morton said. “There was no bad driving. She was completely cooperative throughout the entire process with the police and she’s never had any problem with the law prior to this.”
In a police dash cam video of the arrest obtained by ABC affiliate KHOG-TV, Gafvert is seen telling the arresting officer she has Type 1 diabetes. She was diagnosed with the condition shortly before the arrest, Morton said. Gafvert also told police she had two drinks earlier in the evening, according to the police report.
“I have Type 1 diabetes. My blood sugar is really low, and I’m just trying to get home,” Gafvert is seen saying in the video.
Gafvert performed a field sobriety test during which she had uneven balance, according to the police report. She blew a 0.13, the report alleges, which is almost twice the legal limit of .08.
“I would do anything to not have a DWI. Is there nothing?” Gafvert is seen saying before being placed in a police car.
“No, m’am. I don’t have much discretion with something like this,” the officer responded. “I’m not going to sugar coat it. That’s just what it is.”
A hearing is scheduled for Monday but Gafvert will not appear in court, her lawyer said.
Morton provided a long list of Gafvert’s extracurricular activities and achievements including graduating high school as the valedictorian with a 4.0 grade-point average, being in the University of Arkansas’ honors college and raising money for a variety of charities. She also received the Overall Community Service Award at the Miss University of Arkansas pageant, he said.
“This really is somebody that everybody should look up to,” Morton said. “Her character is, as far as I can tell, just about flawless. She’s a serious student and she works very hard for causes for children and underprivileged people.”
University of Arkansas students had mixed feelings regarding Gafvert’s arrest.
“Nothing against her, but I wouldn’t support that,” student Susan Moreno told KHOG. “I wouldn’t support her having been crowned because it is that role that you’re trying to teach others that you should be respectful and you should hold yourself to a higher standard.”
Said student Sakora: “But if she’s trying to make it better, than maybe we should give her a second chance.”
The Miss University of Arkansas pageant awards more than $6,000 in scholarships yearly, according to the official Facebook page for the pageant.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Matt Harris, IdahoSports.com
Natalia Hepworth, EastIdahoNews.com