Local News

Raleigh woman pleads guilty to crash that killed 12-year-old son

Posted April 2, 2015 1:11 p.m. EDT
Updated April 2, 2015 6:48 p.m. EDT

— A Raleigh woman will serve at least three years in prison for the high-speed crash that killed her son last fall, a wreck she cannot remember but says she will never forget.

Laura Lynne Smith, 50, pleaded guilty Thursday to felony death by vehicle and driving while impaired in the Oct. 13 crash on Creedmoor Road in north Raleigh.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney Jason Waller said Smith's 1997 Chevrolet Suburban was swerving along the road at about 3:45 p.m., almost hitting another car before it jumped the curb and slammed into a line of trees between Sawmill and Lynn roads.

Antony Smith, her 12-year-old son, was dead in the back seat, Waller said, hit by a combination of debris flying through the windshield and the crushed roof of the SUV. Emergency crews spent 20 minutes trying to extract Laura Smith from the crumpled vehicle, and she spent more than five weeks at WakeMed with a mild brain injury, liver damage and two broken wrists.

Tests performed at the hospital and by the City-County Bureau of Identification determined Laura Smith had a blood-alcohol content of at least 0.32, which is four times the limit at which a driver is considered impaired under North Carolina law. Waller said an accident reconstruction team from the Raleigh Police Department determined the SUV was traveling at 74 mph before the crash. The speed limit along that section of Creedmoor Road is 45 mph, he said.

"This is just unconscionable," Waller said. "It's hard to wrap your mind around what happened. You hear this called a mistake or an accident a lot of times. It takes a lot of work and a lot of decisions to get to 0.33. And it takes a lot of decisions to get to 74 mph on that road."

Smith has no recollection of the crash, according to Waller and defense attorney Roger Smith Jr. She told police that she took her son to school that morning, returned home to take a nap and remembers nothing after that.

Her estranged husband, Eric Smith, told authorities that his son had a 3:50 p.m. doctor's appointment on the afternoon of the crash. He also said she had a drinking problem in the past but wouldn't elaborate on it.

"How in the world in the middle of the day could somebody have that kind of blood-alcohol and then get in the car with her child and end up with this result?" Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens asked. "Help me understand that."

"I can't sit here and give you an explanation," Roger Smith told Stephens. "You have someone here who, on the one hand, has an amazing level of intellect."

Laura Smith has a Ph.D. from North Carolina State University and worked in the chemical industry until her son was born in 2002, he said.

"Obviously, no one understood, including her, how bad the problem was" with alcohol, Roger Smith said. "I think that's the nature of that problem."

She apologized for her actions that day. "This day and every day, for as long as I live, I have permanent reminders of everything," she told Stephens before becoming too emotional to continue.

Stephens sentenced her to 38 to 58 months in prison and ordered her to undergo substance abuse and mental health counseling.