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Friends, Family Turn to the Internet to Sway the Court System | Crime

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Friends, Family Turn to the Internet to Sway the Court System
Crime

LAS VEGAS -- Paul Maidman sat at a stoplight in his Buick Century. It was 3:15 a.m. on a Friday. He had been up all night studying, and had to leave his house to fax his professor a paper. On the way home, he stopped at a convenience store -- on the seat next to him sat two Rockstar energy drinks and a snack. One hour later he was dead.

When the police arrived at the accident, the Buick was unrecognizable. A car had failed to slow down for the red light and slammed into the back of Maidman's car. According to a police report, the car's driver, Miranda Dalton, admitted to spending the evening at Stoney's, a bar on Las Vegas Blvd.

In the report, an officer wrote Dalton's "speech was so slurred, I thought she had a foreign object in her mouth."

She failed a field sobriety test and was booked for DUI causing death.

Maidman was rushed to University Medical Center, but died in the ambulance. He had big plans for the future -- a girlfriend in Florida he planned to marry, a college degree to finish, a contracting company with his sister, maybe a future in politics.

"He was the most upstanding person," said his sister, Dawn Buist.

Maidman's girlfriend Kerri Green lives in Tampa. When she awoke that Friday morning, Maidman was already gone and she had no idea. She spent the day wondering why he hadn't called, but chalked it up to his late night study session. Her plans revolved around a future with Maidman -- a future that is now completely uncertain.

"We're young. We're happy. We planned on getting married and having a family," she said.

When Green tells the story of their relationship, there's joy in her voice. The pair met in high school and dated, but as fleeting young love goes, theirs came to an end. Maidman joined the Air Force, but the pair stayed in touch. After Maidman was discharged, he moved to Las Vegas and Green came for a visit. They started dating again, and were inseparable. They talked of getting married, but the proposal never came.

"I'm devastated that I never got that chance," she said. "I would have said yes."

For the families of fatal DUI accident victims, the pain is often repeated several times. For Buist, her brother was gone in the blink of an eye. But knowing the person allegedly responsible for his death was out on bail hit her hard. She got the call that Dalton was released while she was attending her brother's wake.

"She took away my mother's baby," she said. "She had no right to take my brother's life."

Dalton's attorney James Gallo says his client is upset that the accident happened. "DUI destroys lives. It's torn up their family and my client's," he said.

This isn't the first time Miranda Dalton has been in trouble. In 2001, she was arrested for DUI. When police arrested her in the latest accident, they found four pills in her purse -- three hydrocodone and one darvocet. Police say Dalton didn't have a prescription for either.

TEAM Paul was born as a joke. Long before he died, Maidman found a portrait of himself, tweaked it in Photoshop and put it on a t-shirt with the words "Team Paul" featured prominently. He wore the shirt out with friends when he wanted to get a laugh. He later registered the domain name TeamPaul.org, and planned to turn the joke into an organization to help others.

"Team Paul is something that Paul created when he was alive and we've used it to come together," said Green. "I'm just amazed at all the people he's touched."

Maidman's family took over the website and turned Team Paul into an online activist group, working to change DUI laws and sentencing guidelines around the country. They also struck back, online, at Dalton, starting a Facebook group called "Maximum Penalty for Miranda Dalton upon conviction." At last check, the group is fast approaching 2,000 fans, all of whom have their sights set squarely on Dalton.

Members of the group have dug up photos of Dalton and posted them on the page. Others Photoshopped prison bars over a picture of Dalton posing in a bikini. But more importantly, the group has become a way for members of Team Paul to keep track of the court case and work to change the system.

"People are getting away with (DUI). People are killing people and serving three to five. To me, that's not an acceptable punishment for murder," said Buist.

To describe Paul's sister as angry does not do her fury justice. She is driven to see that Dalton spends significant time in jail.

Sandy Heverly, Executive Director of Nevada non-profit STOP DUI, sees the Internet as a way to tap into untold masses of people. If channeled effectively, the sheer volume of users makes the web an effective tool for activism, especially for DUI crimes, she says. "It shows that there are a large volume of people who feel strongly about this and recognize it as a violent crime," she said.

On what would have been Paul's birthday, Buist got a call that Dalton was partying at Dylan's Bar on Boulder Highway. She went, with camera in tow, and found Dalton inside. She snapped a few photos before being seen by one of Dalton's friends. When she got home, she called the District Attorney.

As it turns out, Dalton was already due in court — she had been accused of tampering with her alcohol monitoring bracelet. While she denied tampering with the device and no evidence was found that she had been drinking, the judge raised Dalton's bail from $100,000 to $600,000 because of the photos Buist took in the bar. Dalton has been in the Clark County Detention Center since.

Deputy District Attorney Eric Bauman was surprised when the photos surfaced. "It's a little troubling," he said. "You have to wonder if they're taking it seriously."

If anything, the Facebook page has created a group of people in the community set on monitoring the movements of Dalton and alerting Maidman's family.

Dalton is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on May 24th. Members of the "Maximum Penalty for Miranda Dalton" Facebook group say there will be plenty of Team Paul t-shirts in the courtroom audience.

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