Local News

Charges Upgraded for Alleged Drunk Driver

Posted April 7, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Durham County District Attorney Jim Hardin Jr. has announced plans to seek a first-degree murder conviction against a habitual drunken driver accused of causing a fatal accident.

Officers charged Timothy Earl Blackwell with second-degree murder after he hit a minivan, killing 4-year-old Megan Dail. Monday, Hardin requested a court hearing regarding his request to seek a first-degree murder conviction.

Such prosecutions are extremely rare in fatal, alcohol-related crashes. Defendants sometimes are charged with second-degree murder, but plead guilty to a lesser charge, such as manslaughter. But Hardin said he would contend that two factors justify a first-degree murder prosecution, arguing that Blackwell killed with premeditation and deliberation and that he killed Megan while committing another felony.

``In my mind there are factors that are as egregious as any I can imagine,'' Hardin said.

Blackwell's attorney, Public Defender Bob Brown, declined to comment Monday on Hardin's motion.

Bob Farb, a criminal law expert at the UNC Institute of Government in Chapel Hill, knows of only one of other case in more than 20 years that resulted in first-degree murder charges in DWI cases. A 69-year-old man faces the death penalty on charges that he killed two Wake Forest University students in a drunken driving accident in September.

Hardin's decision pleases Megan's parents.

"This will set an example," Sherry Dail, Megan's mother, toldThe News & Observeron Monday. "You can't just get behind the wheel of a vehicle and get away with it. Megan didn't just die from a drunk. She died because of a habitual drunken driver."

At the time of the crash, Blackwell's license had been permanently revoked as the result of numerous DWI convictions. He also had been convicted of habitual drunken driving and for driving without a license.