WRAL Investigates

Judge defends Wilson County's speeding ticket dismissals

Posted June 9, 2010 5:06 p.m. EDT
Updated June 9, 2010 6:32 p.m. EDT

— 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.

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Farris said Coleman shouldn't have been driving because his license was revoked following a previous driving while impaired conviction.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