DOBSON — A Mount Airy man has been convicted in a DWI case where an accident killed his cousin.
Walter Columbus Simmons, 49, of Reely Cook Road, had a blood-alcohol content more than three times the legal limit following a 2012 wreck that killed his cousin.
In Surry County Superior Court Monday, Simmons asked the court “to have mercy on me” while pleading guilty to felony hit and run causing serious injury or death (a class F felony) and aggravated felony death by vehicle (a class D felony).
Through a plea agreement with the District Attorney’s office, charges of obtaining the status of a habitual felon, driving while impaired, driving while license revoked and driving left of center, which stemmed from the same incident, were dismissed.
A May 2015 charge of driving while license revoked for impaired driving was also dismissed.
Prosecutor Tim Watson stated during the proceeding that law enforcement became aware of the wreck at about 1 a.m. on Oct. 6, 2012, when Simmons’ sister called 9-1-1 from Simmons’ residence.
She said Simmons had pulled into the driveway and told her, “I think I killed Odell,” referring to the victim, Odell France, who had been a passenger in the vehicle, Watson said.
Dobson defense attorney Chadwick Casstevens later stated in court that France was a first cousin of Simmons and “arguably his best friend.”
After leaving at a party up the street where they had been drinking, the pair drove towards Simmons’ house and, when Simmons’ attention wavered, had crashed into a tree, Watson said.
When EMS personnel arrived 16 minutes after the 9-1-1 call, France was still in the passenger seat of the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene.
Watson said several doctors had concurred that France had died from a traumatic head injury.
The prosecutor and defense both noted that Simmons had been immediately cooperative with authorities at the scene by issuing both written and oral statements and consenting to having blood drawn by EMS.
His blood alcohol content was 0.27 percent when tested by the state crime lab. The legal limit for operating a vehicle in North Carolina is 0.08 percent.
The defendant was also cooperative in taking State Highway Patrol to the scene of the wreck, which was later clocked as a 23-second drive from Simmons’ home, Watson said.
Officers discovered obvious damage to brush and trees at the scene as well as blood on the tree, Watson said, adding that dirt and tree bark were found in the car and the deceased man’s hair.
Casstevens, noting his client’s prior history of DWI, told the judge that his client had not drank alcohol since the wreck.
“He understands the severity of what happened,” he said.
However, that statement is counter to additional drunk driving charges that Simmons had after the accident, including the May 2015 charge that was dropped as part of the plea agreement.
Watson had stated in court on May 10, when Simmons failed to appear at calendar call for the charges, that the defendant’s record included 10 DWI convictions.
Simmons was convicted of habitual DWI in 1999, according to court documents.
Senior Resident Superior Court Judge A. Moses Massey, who also presided during the plea hearing Monday, issued an order for Simmons’ arrest with a $1 million minimum secured bond.
Simmons was arrested that night about 11:30 p.m. on charges of simple possession of a schedule VI controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, booked into the Surry County Detention Center and scheduled to appear in District Court on June 13, according to court documents.
The defendant’s criminal record also includes pleading guilty to the lesser charge of assault with a deadly weapon which was reduced from assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill or cause serious injury, on September 27, 2012, less than two weeks before the wreck that killed France occurred.
Simmons had been twice previously indicted with habitual felon status, in 2007 and 2009, both of which were dismissed.
A defendant who has acquired habitual felon status is subject to harsher penalties for subsequent felony convictions.
Casstevens mentioned that his client was aware he had avoided the habitual felon status and had also been made aware of that a second-degree murder charge had been considered but not pursued by the state.
“That was a possibility,” Casstevens said, who had informed Simmons that “the facts would warrant” the charge.
Senior Resident Superior Court Judge A. Moses Massey sentenced Simmons to 108 months minimum (9 years) and 142 (11.8 years) months maximum confinement in the department of adult corrections with 815 days (2.2 years) credited for time served.
“I regret that this horrible tragedy has occurred for your family and family of your cousin,” Massey stated. “I hope the fact that you haven’t consumed alcohol in since the accident is something you’ll be able to say 30 years from now.”
“That addiction doesn’t go away,” he said. “There are people who conquer it. I challenge you to do that for the rest of your turn on earth.”
Simmons’ sentence could be lengthened based on several other outstanding charges against him, including driving while license revoked for impaired driving, driving with no insurance and no registration. He has a court date of June 28 in Stokes County.
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.