8:57 PM EDT, May 22, 2012
A 49-year-old man charged with drunken driving in the May 2011 death of Harry Lee Franks Jr. of Inwood, W.Va., has entered a plea agreement that would allow him to avoid a felony conviction.
David Wayne McDaniel is expected to enter guilty pleas to one count of misdemeanor driving under the influence with death and one misdemeanor count of driving revoked for DUI, according to a plea agreement that was presented to 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge John C. Yoder Tuesday.
A misdemeanor count of no insurance would be dismissed because the defendant provided proof that he actually was insured at the time of the May 9, 2011, crash in the 2100 block of Arden Nollville Road, according to Berkeley County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Timothy D. Helman.
Yoder, who scheduled a plea and sentencing hearing for Aug. 2, would have discretion in determining McDaniel’s sentence, as part of the agreement, Helman said.
Franks, 46, of 151 Franks Road, was killed and McDaniel was injured when the pickup truck in which they were riding overturned, police have said.
McDaniel was indicted in October 2011 on a felony count of DUI with death and the other two misdemeanor charges, but Helman said the prosecution lacks evidence to show the defendant acted in “reckless disregard” for Franks’ safety, which is required to gain a felony conviction.
Other than the deceased, there apparently were no witnesses to the one-vehicle crash, and the proscection has no evidence to indicate McDaniel was speeding or acting reckless when he crashed, Helman said.
An accident reconstructionist was not sent to the accident scene by West Virginia State Police, but measurements and photographs were taken by the trooper, Helman said. There were no skid marks at the crash scene, which could have helped the state’s case, according to Helman.
McDaniel could have been sentenced to serve a two- to 10-year prison sentence for the felony charge, Helman said.
The maximum for the lesser misdemeanor offense is up to one year in jail, according to Helman.
While the victim’s family has asked for leniency in McDaniel’s sentencing, Helman said he is “really disappointed” that the state’s DUI law does not allow for other factors to be considered in prosecuting the defendant.
Helman pointed to the significant concentration of alcohol in McDaniel’s blood after the crash, .336, which he noted is more than four times the legal limit, according to court documents.
The legal limit is .08.
McDaniel, in an interview with police, allegedly admitted he consumed several beers and whiskey over a three- to four-hour span at a bar before the crash happened, the documents said.
Police responded to investigate at 3:21 a.m. The men were riding in a Ford F-150, which went off the road into a ditch and overturned, police have said. The vehicle came to rest on its wheels.
Helman said the case has caused him to consider calling state lawmakers to urge them to toughen the law.
— Matthew Umstead
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