WRAL Investigates

Judge defends Wilson County's speeding ticket dismissals

Posted June 9, 2010

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— A Wilson County judge on Wednesday defended the county's high rate of dismissing speeding tickets, saying most cases are handled as lesser offenses instead of being dropped altogether.

WRAL Investigates found that the county's dismissal rate for speeding tickets ranged from 11.7 to 23.5 percent over the last five years, while the statewide rate was between 5.9 and 7.2 percent during the period.

Wilson County Chief District Judge William Farris Judge: Don't link ticket dismissals, fatal wreck

Chief District Judge William Farris said he has no problem with the way local prosecutors dismiss speeding tickets to secure guilty pleas on lesser charges.

"I never hear of them being dismissed. The person pleads to some traffic offense – some infraction – and they pay a fine and they pay court costs. It doesn't have to come to the court," Farris said.

On Sunday, a Kenly man with a history of driving violations that were pleaded down to lesser charges in court was involved in a fatal wreck.

Jimmy Vincent Coleman, 34, of West First Street, was charged with two counts of felony death by motor vehicle and one count of driving with a revoked license. He remains in the Wilson County jail under a $100,000 secured bond.

Police said that Coleman was driving the vehicle that hit and killed pedestrians Amie Sullivan, 25, and Nikki Whitley, 22, in the 3400 block of Raleigh Road Parkway.

Coleman has a history of traffic offenses, including six speeding tickets since 2002 that were all resolved by guilty pleas to having an improper muffler, according to state Department of Correction records.

Farris said Coleman shouldn't have been driving because his license was revoked following a previous driving while impaired conviction.

"Had he been convicted for another speeding ticket, it wouldn't have been any more revoked," he said. "I think it's a big mistake to try to blame the courts, the government or the state for what happened (in the fatal wreck). This was a tragedy."

The judge's stance doesn't lessen the pain for Sullivan's and Whitley's families, who expressed outrage over Coleman's driving record.

"When you get repeated offenses and they just overlook it and let it go, I don't think it's fine. Something needs to be done about it," said Terri High, Sullivan's aunt.

"The one person that kept us laughing when we were down is gone. She's gone, and we won't ever see her again," said Zebbra Krieger, another of Sullivan's aunts.

Whitley's mother, Lisa Whitley, said Coleman shouldn’t have been on the road.

“There has got to be more that police can do to stop these people from driving. Stop taking their license and put them in jail,” Whitley said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • itsnotmeiswear Jun 10, 2010

    Does anyone really think if his license had been revoked for the speeding tickets that he dould not have still been driving? I bet about 20% of the people on the road don't have a license or insurance. The simple step would be more road blocks and more care from the DA in giving the ticket reductions. No one should get improper equipment that six times.

  • carla5 Jun 10, 2010

    I lost my nephew on Feb 3rd of this year to an accident where the driver was driving on a revoked license, among other things. He is now being charged w/ felony death by vehicle, along with some other charges. My nephew was only 20 yrs old! My family has suffered greatly by the poor choices of the young man driving, who was also a close friend of my nephew. What makes this even worse if this was not the first time he had been caught driving w/ a revoked license, not the second time either from what I know. This is so disturbing to me. Something has to be done to stop these people from continuing to drive once they have their license revoked, whether it is for speeding, wreckless driving, DUI/DWI, or whatever the case may be! My heart goes out to the families of the girls that were killed.

  • csmith01 Jun 10, 2010

    The problem is that the judge is an attorney and he is looking out for other attorneys so they can keep revenue coming in. We need judges that aren't attorneys to convict these speeders of the charges they face. It is too easy to get out of a speeding ticket and so people continue to speed. The police get frustrated because they don't get convictions and give up enforcing the law.

  • zwm02 Jun 10, 2010

    That Judge does not deserve to be on the bench. N&O- please investigate how many dismissals led to no subsequent plea to a lesser charge.

  • ttharrell Jun 10, 2010

    Okay I wasn't going to comment but here goes, Nikki was my family. Forget the BS about speeding tickets the issue was the fact that with continued DUI and DWI convictions and driving with a revoked license he should have done time for those offenses and should not have been on the roads. People are not usually arrested for just speeding tickets and they haven't even said speed was a factor in the incident yet. It was not an accident because if you drink and drive that is premeditated to me. All this other mess is taking away from the fact that he killed two beautilful young ladiesd that never had a chance because he did a stupid thing over and over, until he killed someone. I am angry at the fact that with all the times he was caught without a license he just kept driving and drinking while doing so. I myself have had a speeding ticket reduced, but I paid far more in fines for my 1st ticket at 34 yrs old than he paid for his DWI. There is no justice and won't be until a DA, or ju

  • warrcorick Jun 10, 2010

    How bout Jhonston Co?

    Killed in a car wreck is all you hear about teens in Jhonston Co. But You never hear it's citizens complain of tickets. And
    you never hear of a large number of court cases. Seems like they need to do the same or more patrolling.

  • johnsod27330 Jun 10, 2010

    Harnett County is the same way. In 1997 I was rearended on HWY 87 by an individual that had been drinking heading to Sanford. When the driving record of the guy who hit me was pulled it was filled with guilty pleas. He had plead guilty to four previous wreckless driving charges, as well as numerous speeding charges. In other words he had four prevous DUI's. When we went to court for this one he again plead guilty to wreckless driving.

  • cagerat42 Jun 10, 2010

    thinkthenspeak12,I dont't need or go to the Farris' for anything.Wondering how many times they have helped you out
    with a ticket.Respected maybe.I don't call pleading a charge
    down to a lesser charge to get someone off hard work.All they
    do is tie the hands of law enforcement.Ask some Highway Patrolman.They refer to it as the 7th dismissal district.Who does the dismissing a Thomas or Farris.

  • mcbgen Jun 10, 2010

    As someone who has experienced the Wilson County Court system from a victims perspective, I must say, I am not surprised that Judge Farris reacted the way he did. The Thomas' and Farris', judges, DA's, and defense attorneys, are all married to each other or related to each other in some way, shape or form. If that isn't a conflict of interest, I don't know what is. The state really needs to look into the fact that a case can have a judge, whose nephew is the defense attorney and who is married to the prosecuting attorney, whose daddy is God know who! It's crooked town, with a crooked court system. I know, they know and you should know it too!

  • sinenomine Jun 10, 2010

    I'd love to know the attitude of some posters when THEY get a ticket. I would guess that a lot of them have no problem with dismissals or reductions when that happens.

    Makes me think of the old joke about the liquored up guy who gets in a lawyer's face at a cocktail party. "Is there no crime so detestable, no criminal so heinous that you wouldn't stoop to defend them?" he slurred. "I don't know" responded the attorney, "what are you charged with?"