Local News

Man involved in UNC sports reporter's death pleads guilty to third DWI

Posted September 29, 2014 2:50 p.m. EDT
Updated September 29, 2014 7:25 p.m. EDT

— A Cary man who was a passenger in an SUV that killed a Chapel Hill sports reporter more than a decade ago pleaded guilty Monday to a DWI charge – his third such conviction since the fatal wreck.

Rabah Samara, 37, was sentenced to 14 days in jail in connection with a Dec. 20, 2013, Cary police DWI checkpoint in which he registered a blood alcohol concentration of .10.

District Judge Jackie Brewer also handed down a suspended 12-month prison sentence and 36 months of supervised probation and ordered Samara to pay a $1000 fine and court costs.

Defense attorney Duncan McMillan told Brewer that his client hasn't had anything to drink since December and that, in recent months, he started alcohol counseling.

Citing two other DWI convictions, however, Wake County Assistant District Attorney Rashad Hauter told Brewer that Samara was "a danger to the community."

On Oct. 24, 2003, he was a passenger in a Cadillac Escalade that hit and killed Stephen Gates, a 27-year-old reporter for the Tar Heel Sports Network, who had pulled off Interstate 40 to fix a flat tire.

The Escalade's 20-year-old driver pulled over, hysterical, and Samara, who had been sleeping, switched seats with her and continued driving.

Later that same night, he was pulled over in Wake County and cited for driving while impaired – a charge he was convicted of in 2004.

"The fact that DWI is linked to the tragic incident of a loss of somebody's life, I submit that for your honor to take into consideration," Hauter said.

McMillan, however, told Brewer that his client "was made a scapegoat" in Gates' death – a jury acquitted Samara of a hit-and-run charge – and that he had no control of the situation.

Samara was charged with driving while impaired two other times – once in 2006 that was dismissed and then again on St. Patrick's Day last year. In that case, he received 36 months' probation.

Gates' mother, Pat Gates, attended Monday's hearing and has been in court each time Samara's been.

Her motive, she has said, isn't for revenge but to serve as a reminder for Samara, who she says promised her more than a decade ago that he would make his life worthwhile.

After Monday's plea and McMillan's "scapegoat," comment, she was moved to tears.

"I'm tired of him saying – although he only said it once – 'I'm sorry for your loss,'" she said. "I want (him) to be sorry for what (he) did."

"Maybe he will get his life together. Maybe he will," she added. "Maybe this is the last time I ever have to come down here. Maybe. I hope."