Local News

Fayetteville woman pleads guilty in DWI wreck that disabled soldier

Posted April 9, 2014 3:01 p.m. EDT
Updated April 9, 2014 6:38 p.m. EDT

— A Fayetteville woman was sentenced Wednesday to serve up to 29 months in prison for a 2012 crash that permanently disabled a Fort Bragg soldier.

Rhonda Renee Sutton Bryant, 48, pleaded guilty to a felony motor vehicle accident causing serious injury, misdemeanor driving while impaired and misdemeanor driving left of center. Her 16- to 29-month sentence is the maximum allowed under state law on those charges.

"I hope the sentence she receives reflects my lifetime of pain and loss," retired Sgt. Maj. Jeremy Bruns told Superior Court Judge Claire Hill before she sentenced Bryant.

Bruns, now 43, was loading a boat into his truck on Calamar Drive on Nov. 10, 2012, when Bryant's car slammed into him from behind, authorities said. He was pinned underneath his truck and her car, and rescuers worked for nearly an hour to extricate him.

Surgeons had to amputate both of his legs, and he also lost the thumb and a finger on his right hand.

"After pain, I feel a tremendous amount of loss. Losing both legs, plus a finger and a thumb and full use of my hand has radically disrupted my life,” said Bruns, who had made it home safely from nine deployments. "I have lost the ability just to be normal. Everywhere I go, I’m a spectacle."

Bruns has been recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., over the last 17 months. He and his family will eventually move to a house that can accommodate his disabilities.

Jenny Bruns called the crash a "preventable and senseless crime."

Bryant's blood-alcohol content was 0.10, slightly above the level at which a driver is considered impaired under North Carolina law, but authorities said she also had cocaine in her system.

"Her choices showed an utter lack of concern for the safety of her neighbors. She dismembered, mutilated and maimed my husband with her car," Jenny Bruns said.

Bryant apologized to Bruns.

"I pray to God constantly that, on those days when you are hurting, that he eases your pain," she said.

Jeremy Bruns said he was glad that Hill handed down the maximum sentence, but he and his wife said North Carolina laws should be tougher on DWI crashes that cause catastrophic injuries. Under the existing law, he said, a serious injury can range from a broken finger to the loss of two legs.

"Unfortunately, what we heard a lot is, 'It's just a misdemeanor. It's just drunk driving,'" Jenny Bruns said. "It's just a misdemeanor, but it can hurt anybody. It does hurt people. It hurts a lot of people."

Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West agreed that state laws aren't adequate in cases like Jeremy Bruns'.

"Here we have such catastrophic injuries that are so much greater than (a broken bone), yet the punishment is basically the same," West said.