Jury finds man guilty of DWI

Published 9:32 am Thursday, September 24, 2015

A man was convicted of DWI for driving a vehicle that crashed into a tree last year. A Davie Superior Court jury deliberated 20 minutes last week before finding him guilty.

Calvin Hillian Jr. of Winston-Salem was a few months away of turning 50 when he was charged with DWI, driving while license revoked, resisting public officer, and failure to maintain lane control March 20, 2014.

According to testimony by Brenda Mercer, one of the first people to see Hillian’s Acura off Farmington Road near Pineville Road that night, Hillian’s car had collided with a tree about 30 feet off the roadway. She was going by, saw the car, and turned around.

“As I approached, there was a gentleman standing at the driver’s door at the car, and he walked around to the trunk. I asked him if he was hurt, and after a few seconds, he said ‘No,’ and I asked him if I could help, if I could call 911 for him, and if there was anyone else in the car, and all his answers were ‘No.’

“He’s looking me in the eyes today, but he wouldn’t look me in the eyes that night. I thought it was very odd that after an accident, he’d be trying to get into the trunk, fiddling with the latch,” she said.

Mercer peered into the car to make sure no one else was in it, and realizing she was a woman in the dark off the road with a male stranger, she decided it was best to return to her van, lock the doors, and call 911.

By the time law enforcement arrived, other people had stopped, and Mercer said the man she saw was no longer anywhere around, and the next time she saw him, he was in the back of a patrol car.

On cross examination by Hillian’s court-appointed attorney, Wade Leonard, Mercer said Hillian’s speech was slurred, something she recognized from growing up with a father who was an alcoholic. Hillian, seated beside Leonard, wore a t-shirt advertising a bar.

Sgt. Mark Crater, the deputy who was first to respond, said people at the scene told him the driver had gone into the woods. N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper Kevin Leonard arrived, and they determined since no K-9 dog was available, they would go into the woods to search for the driver. They found Hillian about 45 feet into the woods, in a thicket, face down, with his arms underneath his body. Crater said he noticed a strong odor of alcohol and that it appeared Hillian had urinated on himself.

Another deputy arrived, and when Hillian wouldn’t respond to orders to remove his hands and get up, the three officers picked him up and handcuffed him. Crater said as they were walking out of the woods, Hillian said, “I parked my car in the woods. Oh, I shouldn’t have said that.”

Attorney Leonard said maybe Hillian was “just trying to make light of the situation.”

Trooper Leonard testified Hillian was not compliant to officers’ commands to take his hands out from underneath him, and they had to carry him out of the woods. Because the keys still in the ignition had a military-style dog tag with Hillian’s name and date of birth, it was suspected he was the driver, and Leonard attempted to conduct field sobriety tests. The only one he was able to do was the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, following a pen with the eyes without moving the head.

“He wasn’t able to do any of the other tests because he was a fall risk. He couldn’t stand on his own,” Leonard said.

Hillian refused a breath-alcohol test and told the trooper he wasn’t the driver. Leonard placed him under arrest and transported him to the jail, where Hillian was given another HGN test. Leonard said he showed all of the six possible clues that would indicate impairment above a level .08. Hillian again refused to be tested for alcohol, but was more cooperative and coherent than he had been earlier, Leonard said.

Attorney Leonard said, “My concern is he may have been injured in that wreck,” but Trooper Leonard said due to the facts there was minimal damage to the car, the air bag was not deployed, and Hillian improved as the night went on, it was unlikely he was injured.

“Anything is possible but not everything is reasonable,” Trooper Leonard said.

Assistant DA Steve Boone asked Trooper Leonard if Hillian complained of any medical problems or injuries or asked to be seen by medical personnel, and Leonard said he did not.

Judge Lynn Gullett, on motions to dismiss by Attorney Leonard, allowed the motion to dismiss the driving while license revoked and failure to maintain lane control charges, as no evidence had been put on regarding those, but she did not grant further dismissals.

During closing arguments, Boone said while he anticipated Attorney Leonard to argue Hillian was not driving and was not impaired, evidence during testimony by Mercer and Trooper Leonard, including Mercer seeing no one else at the crash site, Hillian’s dog tag on the car keys, headlights still burning (showing the crash had happened moments before Mercer arrived), Hillian’s slurred speech and odor of alcohol and HGN clues would point to Hillian’s guilt.

Attorney Leonard first asked the jury if they were looking forward to the presidential candidate debate later than night, before he told them no one actually saw Hillian driving.

Further, he said, Hillian simply “had to go to the bathroom but obviously didn’t make it,” and was lying on his hands because “it was cold. He may have had body trauma or a head injury or damage to his kidneys. You can’t tell me one way or another, and they assume he was driving. Fat chance. It don’t work that way. You can’t go back home tonight and say you convicted this gentleman because you assumed he was driving. The officers came to his rescue. If y’all can’t decide whether he was hurting from the accident or because of drinking, if you can’t decide beyond a reasonable doubt, then you have to find him not guilty. Then you can be home tonight watching the debate.”

The jury of eight women and four men found Hillian guilty of DWI and resisting a public officer. Hillian was charged with DWI in October 2013 and convicted four months later, and he was convicted on another DWI in 2006. On the DWI, Gullett sentenced him to 24 months in prison and recommended an alcohol treatment program. He must pay a $900 attorney fee. She found him guilty on resisting public officer, but issued no sentence.