White cops plea in DWI death

Published 2:29 pm Saturday, March 20, 2010

WINTON – A local man with a history of motor vehicle violations will spend the next 18-to-22 years behind bars.

Last week in Hertford County Superior Court, Anthony Ronshawn White, 30, of Winton pled guilty to second degree murder in a November 9, 2008 crash that killed Kevin Wayne Higgins of Harrellsville.

White, who had originally entered a not guilty plea at the trial, was arrested 16 months ago by the Ahoskie Police Department and charged with second degree murder, aggravated felony death by motor vehicle, driving while impaired (DWI) and driving while license revoked (DWLR).

Higgins, age 21 at the time, was killed when the 1989 Dodge passenger car he was operating west on Memorial Drive was struck, nearly head on, by a 2000 Kia Sportage, driven by White, traveling east on Memorial Drive. Higgins was trapped inside the wreckage of his vehicle.

The trial, presided over by Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Cy A. Grant Sr., began on March 9 with the State of North Carolina represented by District Attorney Valerie M. Asbell and the defendant represented by Attorney Jamal Summey. After three hours of jury selection, a jury was impaneled by Judge Grant Sr. and Asbell started her evidence in the case.

After almost a full day of testimony, White changed his plea to guilty.

“The defendant, Anthony White, had no concern for his safety or the safety of anyone else,” Asbell said. “His reckless disregard for others and his extreme impairment took the life of this young man. This defendant’s record of convictions showed us that he did not care about the laws of the State of North Carolina and certainly did not care what happened in any court or what any Judge told him.”

She continued, “This case is about choices and decisions. Anthony White made the decision to drink alcohol and then he made the decision to drive a vehicle at over three times the legal limit. Kevin Higgins was just the unlucky human being that came into contact with him on this Sunday morning. Impaired drivers kill people everyday. The 18 to 20 years this defendant will serve in prison will never erase the sight of this horrific collision and the images of this young victim after this crash. I pray that God continues to comfort Mr. Higgins’ family through this terrible, needless loss.”

A key element in the prosecution’s case was an eyewitness to the accident.

Asbell called Ahoskie Police Officer Michael Kellet as her first witness. Officer Kellet testified that he was sitting at the bottom of the overpass on Memorial Drive near the Smokey the Bear sign around 1:40 a.m. (on Nov. 9, 2008) while he was waiting to start a checking station at that same spot. Officer Kellet testified that he saw the victim come over the overpass coming from the direction of Burger King driving a Dodge car.

As the victim passed by Kellet’s car, the officer stated that he looked in his rear view mirror and testified he saw the defendant, Anthony White, driving a Kia SUV coming in the direction of Higgins. Kellet stated that White’s vehicle darted across the yellow line and hit the victim’s car nearly head on, causing both cars to lift off the ground about three feet before coming to rest.

After Kellet witnessed the crash, he called for assistance and went to the collision scene to try to help. Kellet testified that the victim was pinned in his vehicle and when he looked at the defendant’s vehicle, White had exited his vehicle and was trying to crawl up the embankment on the side of Memorial Drive. Kellet testified that he was trying to help Wiggins, but was unable to help because he was pinned in the vehicle, gasping for breath.

After emergency units started to arrive, Kellet testified that after telling the defendant to remain seated, White tried to leave the scene of the collision at which time he placed him under arrest for Driving While Impaired.

Kellet testified that White had a strong odor of alcohol, very slurred speech, red, glassy eyes and had problems walking. The officer also testified that the defendant was very belligerent to everyone and cursed at the paramedics and refused treatment. Once at the hospital, Kellet testified that White was very belligerent with the hospital staff and cursed at the nurses and doctors.

Lt. Jeanette Mathias of the Ahoskie Police Department testified that she arrived on the scene of the collision within two minutes of the crash and said the scene was horrific because the victim was pinned in the vehicle and that she and other law enforcement officers were unable to render aid until the fire department arrived and eventually cut the entire top of the car off to get Higgins out of his vehicle.

After White changed his plea, Asbell, during the sentencing hearing, told the Judge about the remaining evidence that would have been presented at trial. She said the defendant’s blood alcohol content was .21 around 4:30 a.m. Asbell also stated that Paul Glover, the Director of the Forensic Tests for Alcohol Branch and an expert in the area of pharmacology of alcohol and drugs and retrograde extrapolations, would have testified that the defendant would have had a blood alcohol content of .25 at the time of the crash which is three times the legal limit in the state of North Carolina.

Asbell also informed the Judge that at 3:20 p.m. on November 8, 2008 the defendant was arrested for the offense of Driving While License Revoked and taken to the Hertford County Jail and bonded out around 5:30 p.m. Eight hours later she said the defendant was involved in the fatal crash that claimed the life of Higgins. Asbell reiterated to the court that the defendant knew his license was revoked and was arrested only hours before he killed the victim and had drank enough alcohol to have a .25 level in his system.

Additionally, the District Attorney stated that the defendant had been convicted of Driving While License Revoked in late October 2008 and a previous DWI conviction in 2005.

After the November 9, 2008 crash, Asbell requested the North Carolina State Highway Patrol Collision Reconstruction Unit to come in and prepare a collision reconstruction because of the severity of the crash.

Following the trial, Asbell stated that Trooper Kevin Morgan, Sgt. Billy Overton and Trooper Randy Cummings did an excellent job on the reconstruction of this collision. “They are professionals who work tirelessly to make sure that all aspects of the collision were thoroughly investigated and documented,” she said. “I am very thankful to have such a talented group of experts to call upon in situations such as this.”