Man involved in UNC reporter's death can't shake DWI conviction
Posted June 26, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — A Cary man involved in a hit-and-run 11 years ago that killed a reporter has since faced three drunken driving charges, much to the dismay of the reporter's parents.
Stephen Gates, a sports reporter at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was changing a tire on the shoulder of Interstate 40 in Orange County on Oct. 4, 2003, when he was hit and killed.
Rabah Samara was a passenger in the Cadillac Escalade that hit Gates, but when driver Emily Caveness stopped, he got behind the wheel and drove off. He said at the time that he thought they had hit a deer, although prosecutors said two truck drivers had told him that they had hit Gates.
Samara was acquitted in November 2004 of felony and misdemeanor hit-and-run charges but was convicted of driving while impaired. Caveness pleaded guilty to misdemeanor failure to report an accident as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.
After the 2004 trial, Gates' mother, Pat Gates, said Samara promised her he would live a worthwhile life.
Since then, however, he has been charged with DWI three more times. He was acquitted in 2006 and is awaiting trial on a charge from last December.
Samara, 37, was convicted last October of a DWI charge from March 2013, but he appealed the conviction.
Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins upheld the conviction on Wednesday and sentenced Samara on Thursday to six months in prison, suspended to three days in jail and three years on probation. He also ordered Samara to surrender his driver's license and not to drink while on probation, undergo 30 hours of alcohol abuse treatment and pay a $1,000 fine.
Samara said the 2013 conviction cost him his job and created problems in his marriage. He said he hasn't driven for six months and is trying to get his life in order.
"I am not an alcoholic. I am not even a social drinker," Samara told Collins.
"Mr. Samara, whether or not a person has an alcohol problem depends on how you look at it," Collins said. "Here's how I look at, an alcohol problem is when you drink alcohol and it causes problems. Under that definition, you have a very serious alcohol problem."
"I did learn a lot from this, and I hope you will be kind," Samara said before he was sentenced.
Gates' parents said they hope it's true that Samara has learned something, but they worry he won't live up to his promise to them to live a meaningful life because their son never had the opportunity to do so.
"We don't even think Rabah Samara is a bad person," said Gates' mother, Pat Gates. "We would like nothing more than him to come to us someday and tell us about some wonderful things he's done."