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DA wants to close DWI loophole

Rondell Lance, local president Fraternal Order of Police (from left); Rep. Kevin Corbin, R-Franklin; District Attorney Ashley Hornsby Welch; Karen Carnes, mother of victim; Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Flat Rock; Ellen Pitt, member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Western North Carolina DWI Task Force. Donated photo Rondell Lance, local president Fraternal Order of Police (from left); Rep. Kevin Corbin, R-Franklin; District Attorney Ashley Hornsby Welch; Karen Carnes, mother of victim; Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Flat Rock; Ellen Pitt, member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Western North Carolina DWI Task Force. Donated photo

Speaking in Raleigh, District Attorney Ashley Hornsby Welch this week urged members of the N.C. Senate Judiciary Committee to close a legal loophole that, at the expense of victims, sometimes benefits those convicted of drunken driving.

Currently, if a person is driving on a revoked license for impaired driving and kills someone, he or she faces a charge of misdemeanor death by vehicle. The maximum prison sentence allowed is 150 days.

Lawmakers are weighing whether to raise the crime from a misdemeanor to a class F felony, carrying a minimum active term of not less than 12 months in prison.

“That many days — for someone who is not even supposed to be on the road — is an insult,” said Welch, who oversees the 43rd Prosecutorial District, made up of the seven westernmost counties.

Sens. Chuck Edwards, R-Flat Rock, and Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, are among the bill’s sponsors. 

“The Senate Judiciary Committee chairs and members are still considering the bill and reviewing the case to determine the best solution,” Edwards said Thursday of the legislation’s progress through the committee.

Kimberly Carnes, 43, suffered mortal injuries in a Feb. 22, 2017, head-on collision in Macon County as she drove from home to work. Scott Marchant, 56, also a Macon County resident, crossed the two-lane center line on N.C. 28 and smashed into Carnes’ car. 

Marchant had been drinking. He did not meet the .08 legal impairment standard, however. His blood alcohol content measured .045.

“It’s one of the worst things we have had to do, to explain to Kimberly’s mother that he faced only a misdemeanor death by vehicle,” Welch said. 

Marchant pleaded guilty to misdemeanor death by vehicle on July 27, 2017, in Macon County District Court. The judge imposed 75 days, based on his sentencing level. 

Kimberly Carnes’ mother, Karen, provided emotional testimony to committee members, pleading with them to increase the penalty.

“As a misdemeanor, it says, ‘He didn’t intentionally set out to kill somebody.’ You know what? My daughter didn’t want to be intentionally hit and killed,” she said.

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