Drunk Driving In Cumberland County

Almost seven years ago my worst fear as a mother was realized on May 29, 2005, when two North Carolina state troopers came knocking on the front door of our home in the middle of the night. They asked to come inside, told me to sit down and announced to my husband and I, that our first-born son, Jackson, had been killed in a car crash in Charlotte, N.C.

I can attest that the memory of those troopers standing at our front door is a nightmare forever seared into my consciousness and will go with me to my grave. No parent should ever have to bury a child for any reason and certainly not for one of the most preventable and senseless crimes on the planet, drunk driving.

In the weeks that followed, we learned that the young man responsible for our son’s death had made the choice to drink heavily before getting behind the wheel. His blood alcohol concentration two and a half hours after the crash was 0.19 — more than twice the legal limit. Because of his impairme03-28-12-dwi.jpgnt behind the wheel and reckless speed, Alec G. Proctor was eventually charged with felony death by vehicle, felony involuntary manslaughter and driving while impaired.

My family was suddenly confronted with dealing with the criminal and civil judicial system as we grieved the loss of our son. Having no experience with the legal system, I called the Charlotte office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving for advice. Victim advocate Cheryl Jones, who was also on the national board of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, became my family’s MADD advocate as we began the arduous task of seeking justice for Jackson.

In the months following Jackson’s death, we learned that Proctor was no stranger to the court system. He had already committed numerous speeding violations and had two prior alcohol-related offenses: one for DWI and one for alcohol possession while under the age of 21. Incredulously, his first DWI charge was plea-bargained to improper equipment/speedometer in Granville County and his underage possession charge in Mecklenburg County was dismissed after he attended TASC, a substance abuse program.

My husband and I began to question how the courts really handle impaired driving cases.

Almost one year to the day after Jackson’s death, Proctor was convicted in Mecklenburg Superior Court of felony involuntary manslaughter and DWI and sent to prison for a 16-20 month active sentence and supervised probation for 24 months. My husband and I were stunned to find out that this was actually a lengthy sentence for an impaired driving offense at the time. Our stunned reaction stemmed from the reality that drunk-driving fatalities are a socially accepted form of homicide.

Proctor served his mandatory 16 months in Nash Correctional Institution, mostly in medium security. Upon release from prison in 2007, Proctor’s 24 month supervised probation lasted only 10 months. I learned that he had been released from probation 14 months early ... by mistake, and I personally had to request to meet with the top man of the N.C. Community Corrections in Raleigh to demand that Proctor go back on supervised probation. It’s noteworthy that Proctor had also failed to pay any probation fees during the 10 months of probation he first served.

It is difficult to not be angry when one’s child is killed unexpectedly by someone who was displaying all the warning signs of an individual with an out-of-control drinking and driving problem. The anger only grows when parents and families like ours are forced to deal with an arcane criminal-justice system which treats drunk-driving crashes as merely accidents. I turned to the Sandhills Mothers Against Drunk Driving to become involved and learn how I could make a difference, if not in the judicial system, at least for other victims.

The national MADD organization ran a victim advocacy training institute in Dallas and I attended in 2007. Slowly, calls started coming in from concerned citizens and victims’ family members asking for help in navigating the complex court process. In addition to advocating for victims, in 2009, I began monitoring Cumberland County District Courts where DWI cases are heard.

One of the first things I noticed in monitoring the courts is that some DWI cases were being continued for years. Two of the first DWI cases I ever monitored were for Daniel Homa, a young man with two pending DWIs from 2005 and 2007.

I called the DA’s office in April 2009 and asked why a 2005 DWI case would still be pending. A senior ADA under then District Attorney Ed Grannis told me there were many extenuating circumstances, such as military members being deployed for long period of times. Never mind that Daniel Homa was not in the military. As I soon found out, where someone with multiple DWIs is concerned, there are often multiple driving while license revoked charges involved as well. This was the case for Homa. Not only did Homa have multiple charges involving impaired driving and DWLR, he also had numerous orders for arrest for failing to appear in court.

No problem there.

His lawyers simply filed a motion with a different judge from the one who ordered his arrest and had the arrest warrant recalled the next day or soon thereafter. Motions for recall of arrest warrants are a serious issue in our courts and the public should demand answers as to why judges other than the one who signed the order for arrest are signing and allowing the recalls. This is one dirty little alliance that should stop.

As for Homa, he was finally convicted of his 2005 DWI after 1,305 days or three and half years on the docket. Sadly though, Homa was never convicted of the 2007 DWI. He was charged in 2009 with many counts of trafficking and has absconded.

Since beginning court monitoring in 2009, I have learned that Cumberland County is full of problem drunk drivers, some of them serial offenders.

Our new Sobriety Court, established in the fall of 2010, has been very beneficial in focusing on high-risk drunk drivers and intensively monitoring defendants with at least two pending DWIs awaiting trial. This court is also responsible for supervising and treating certain convicted DWI offenders of Level 1 and Level 2 DWIs who are on probation.

Judge Kim Tucker and Sobriety Court Administrator Kevin Hood run a very tight ship in monitoring these participants and it has made a difference in keeping the current 80 plus participants off the roads. We should all demand more money for its expansion to allow more participants because they are out there menacing our roads. Thus far, more than 160 defendants have participated in this court program.

But the bigger question remains. What can be done to address the continuance problem in order to ensure that those who break the law get their day in court?

In my opinion, a DWI specialty court, as implemented in many counties across North Carolina, could be the perfect complement to Sobriety Court. No longer would there be an excuse for defense attorneys to continue DWI cases endlessly. In a DWI specialty court, which would not need to run every day, but perhaps once a week, an honest, retired judge and special prosecutor could devote their attention to handling only DWI cases and companion charges.

Let’s put an end to the delays and let defendants have their day in court. This would save taxpayers money, stop defense attorneys from using our courthouse as a collection agency, and allow law enforcement to do its job of protecting the community rather than sitting in court all day.

As citizens of this county and state, you have a right to know how your courts are operating judiciously, and I invite you to join me and get involved.

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