Raleigh, N.C. — The former president of Wake Technical Community College entered a special guilty plea to a number of charges Wednesday in connection with allegations that he endangered the lives of his three grandchildren.
Bruce Howell, who was Wake Tech's president for 23 years until 2003, entered an Alford plea to three counts of misdemeanor child abuse and one count of injury to property.
In an Alford plea, a defendant pleads guilty, while maintaining his or her innocence, and admits it is in his or her best interest to plea because there is sufficient evidence of guilt.
Kristin Howell, Howell's former daughter-in-law, accused him of putting nails six times in the tires of a car in which his three granddaughters – ages 4, 7 and 9 – rode in fall 2010 as she was going through a custody battle with her ex-husband, Bruce Howell's son.
She had a tire blow out each time she picked the children up following visits at their grandfather's home, she said.
Eventually, she had a private investigator capture the crime on tape.
"I didn't understand how he could do that to his grandchildren – knowingly putting them in the car, knowing I'm driving 15 minutes to school, 65 mph, putting their lives in danger," Kristen Howell said after her former father-in-law's plea Wednesday. "It's just sick to me."
The 70-year-old, who still sees his granddaughters on supervised visits, was given a 60-day suspended sentence and was ordered to 24 months of unsupervised probation, 100 hours of community service and $3,304 in restitution.
Despite his plea, Bruce Howell said after court Wednesday that he is innocent.
"There were many falsehoods, but I couldn't prove them," he said.
Bruce Howell was actually convicted of child abuse in the Wake County District Court last year, but his conviction and sentence of three consecutive 60-day jail terms was vacated because he appealed the case to Superior Court.
"This has been a matter that has been troubling to him," his attorney, Rusty Dement III, said. "He has maintained from Day 1 that he did not put the nail behind the tire. He has no ill-will toward the mother of the children and certainly would never put those girls in danger."