For the first time in festival history, a Lilac princess lost her crown Tuesday.
After hours of debate, the Lilac Festival Association executive board voted to expel Sharma Shields - not for driving drunk but for stretching the truth about what had happened.
The action was taken after board members decided the Ferris High School senior’s account of her April 7 drunken-driving arrest differs from the police report.
“She wasn’t as candid as she could be,” said Lilac Festival Executive Director Ed Neunherz.
Shields and her parents declined to comment Tuesday.
Last week, she told festival officials she had been stopped for a broken taillight.
A Washington State Patrol spokesman said the teenager was driving so erratically that she ran a stop sign and nearly hit a trooper’s patrol car.
Shields said she had drunk just one beer. Her blood-alcohol level, however, was measured at 0.11 percent - above the legal limit.
Neunherz said the Lilac Festival board could stomach the arrest because it appeared to be an isolated incident in light of Shields’ excellent academic and community-service record.
But her attempt to put the best possible face on the arrest violated the 58-year-old festival’s “standards,” he said.
“The individual has chosen whether or not to meet the standards,” said Neunherz. “If we don’t have the standards, we don’t have our goals.”
The 13-member executive board met late Monday to discuss how to handle the situation, reaching a decision about 11 p.m. It was announced Tuesday.
After learning of the drunken-driving arrest and talking to Shields last week, the board revoked her $1,500 scholarship but allowed her to keep her crown.
But that action was too lenient for some of the festival’s 85 directors. One of them quit in protest Monday and at least three others threatened to resign.
Many empathized with Shields, the Ferris student body president.
“What’s done is done, and everybody ought to move on with the Lilac Festival,” said former Spokane Mayor Sheri Barnard, who was a Lilac director for 10 years. “Let Sharma get on with her life.”
“We have to remember this is a 17-year-old teenager. … She has been put through more in talk radio than most adults,” Neunherz said.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which criticized the Lilac board’s initial decision, applauded Tuesday’s announcement.
“We are glad … only because of the message it sends to other youth if she were to stay on as princess,” said MADD’s Lisa Rusaw. “Later on in life, she will realize that this was the best thing.”
One Lilac princess said she admires Shields’ strength in admitting her mistake and vowing never to repeat it.
“She is so strong, and she is so brave,” said Laura Hindman, who represents Northwest Christian High School.
Neunherz said he won’t release the name of the Ferris runner-up who will replace Shields until today. The new princess deserves a day out of the media spotlight, he said.
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