Forsyth County Drug Court's most recent graduates include a former television news anchor.
Warren Savage, 44, who pleaded guilty to cocaine charges in October 2006, joined eight other graduates during a commencement ceremony Monday at the Forsyth County Administration Building. The graduation was the 12th the program has had since its inception in 2004.
Savage was sentenced to the rehabilitative exchange program in exchange for his plea. He left his post with WSB-TV in 2005.After the ceremony, Savage said that going from reporting the news to being the news was "embarrassing.""I'm not proud to have gone through this program," he said. "I'm not proud of completing this program and I'm not proud that I had to be so arrogant that God had to slap me down the way that he did. But I'm glad that he did, because he saved my life."
Savage said he believes that if he hadn't been arrested, he'd be dead today, or in prison on a much more serious charge."This program has changed my life," he said.He said he is considering returning to a career in journalism. He is currently working for Wal-Mart. "Right now I've got a much more strong connection with my lord and savior Jesus Christ and there are several options available to me right now," he said. "I'm weighing those as I go ... I don't limit my realm of possibilities."
The program, which participants go through for at least 18 months, helps offenders with substance abuse problems by requiring them to go to counseling three days a week and appear in court once a week. Participants are also required to meet with a judge at least once a month.
During the ceremony, Forsyth County Chief Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley congratulated the graduates and remarked on each of their journeys through the program. Each graduate also spoke, as did their family members and friends who praised them for completing the program. Many also thanked Bagley and drug court officials for their second chances.
Savage was arrested Oct. 4, 2006, outside a business on Craemer Drive in south Forsyth. He faced felony charges for possession of cocaine and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Prosecutors waived the second felony charge for intent to distribute as part of his plea bargain to enter the rehabilitation program. Because Savage has completed the program, the felony charge for possession will be dropped and he will not go to prison. Had he not been successful, he could have faced up to 15 years in prison.
Also arrested in the 2006 incident was Joseph Lindy Oliveria for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Reportedly, Savage gave Oliveria a ride to the south Forsyth County site. During opening arguments of Oliveria's jury trial in October 2007 in Forsyth County Superior Court, the prosecution argued that the purpose of the trip was to sell drugs.
The defense claimed that it was an effort to collect a financial debt.At that time, Assistant District Attorney James A. Dunn said Oliveria's and Savage's arrests were the result of narcotics officers working with an informant to bring Oliveria to Forsyth County. Dunn said Oliveria attempted to flee when authorities greeted him at the site and 9.8 grams of suspected crack cocaine were found inside a hat in the passenger side floorboard of Savage's car.
Oliveria's attorney, Rafe Banks, acknowledged that there were drugs in the car, but that none were found on Oliveria. The trial was ruled a mistrial the day it opened. Reportedly, Banks sought the action based on information on a chalkboard in the jury room and a state witness' testimony about the defendant's character. The state is prohibited from presenting character witnesses, although the defense may do so. Forsyth County District Attorney Penny Penn said Monday the ruling has been appealed and she fully anticipates that Oliveria will be prosecuted.