In a sobering reminder that drunk driving often has severe consequences, a 46-year-old woman in South Carolina was recently sentenced to 25 years in prison after killing a pedestrian in a hit-and-run DUI accident.
According to The Herald, Dianne Alice Webster, of Rock Hill, South Carolina, was convicted on charges of a felony DUI with a death, leaving the scene of an accident with death and committing a hit-and-run violation with injury.
Sources indicate that Webster struck Lorenzo Hemphill and his brother, Antwan, as the two were walking down a well-traveled street in Rock Hill at roughly 9:30 p.m. Antwan died an hour after the accident, while Lorenzo suffered only minor injuries.
After hitting the two brothers, Webster allegedly sped off down the street, and ran into a building, before she recovered and was eventually pulled over for speeding by police.
When she was arrested, Webster failed to perform standard field sobriety tests. And, though her blood alcohol content was measured at .0013, which is below the legal limit of .08, she tested positive for high levels of the prescription drug Xanax.
Whatever was in her system, Webster was clearly impaired. In interviews with police after the accident, she denied that she hit any pedestrians, and also failed to remember any of the places she had been that night.
To make matters worse, Webster claimed that she did not know whose truck she was driving, and she insisted that the date was Tuesday when it was actually Saturday.
The judge, however, took some pity on Webster, and only sentenced her to 25 years for her felony DUI, when the maximum punishment could have been extended to 51 years. The judge expressed a desire for Webster to seek treatment for her addition problems in prison.
At trial, Webster’s case was also strengthened by the testimony of a number of friends, who said that Webster suffered from serious psychological and addiction issues, and had been emotionally destroyed after learning of Hemphill’s death.
The relatively lenient sentence may have disappointed the Hemphill family, who observed that Webster had displayed a pattern of dangerous driving throughout her entire life.
Sources indicate that Webster had been charged with a DUI three times before, and had been charged with driving with a suspended license four times in an eight-year span.
This tragedy raises a few key issues about DUI arrests. First, many people who are arrested for a DUI are not necessarily drunk. Abuse of prescription drugs or illegal narcotics is also a common cause of arrests for driving under the influence.
In addition, the potential consequences of a felony DUI are significantly higher than those for a DUI that is lowered to a misdemeanor.
Of course, in cases where there is a fatality, or where the driver leaves the scene of an accident, the odds are high that a driver will be subject to larger penalties.