James Nash was one of the first homicide cases Thursday morning in the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, and already Superior Court Judge Richard Boner had heard enough.
Nash was ready to plead guilty to felony death by motor vehicle – for driving drunk last December when he struck and killed Michael Dennis Case on Prosperity Church Road. The accident occurred just before 4 a.m. while Case was walking his dog. The dog later died. Nash’s alcohol level was .13 at the time. In North Carolina, .08 is considered legally drunk.
Under a plea offer offered by the District Attorney’s Office, Boner sentenced Nash to 51-74 months in prison. That sentence was suspended, provided that Nash successfully completes three years of supervised probation and a 60-day stay in the county jail, with the judge’s recommendation of work-release so Nash, 66, can care for his elderly mother. He can’t drive during his probation nor consume or possess alcohol.
Boner wasn’t finished.
The General Assembly, he said, owes its constituents tougher DWI laws that make it illegal to drive after “any” alcohol is consumed.
“It’s Russian roulette,” the judge said. “And we’ll continue to have this situation until someone in Raleigh has enough guts to pass legislation to do what it takes to stop it.
“Some fool will drink alcohol that shouldn’t, and they’ll take an innocent life because of it.”
A few minutes later, Jacob Kost stood where Nash had stood. Unlike Nash, Kost wore an orange inmate jumpsuit. And while Nash had been stoic, Kost wept uncontrollably as the parents of the man he ran over with his truck told the judge the pain Kevin Andrew Sweet’s death in 2012 had caused.
Kost, of Winston-Salem, who was visiting his mother in Cornelius, went to a local nightclub with a friend. There, he got into an argument with a group of other men about who had the best truck.
All had been drinking when Kost and a friend left the club – prosecutors estimate Kost’s alcohol level was .10 at the time. Four men followed in their own truck.
What happened next remains unclear. After his arrest, Kost told family members the other truck repeatedly tried to run him off the road.
Finally, both trucks pulled off. All six men got out. Eventually, Kost got his friend back in his truck and drove off. He told his family that one man jumped in front of his vehicle to stop him. Cornelius police found Sweet in the roadway. He died at the scene.
“We will never heal,” Sweet’s mother, Laurie, told the judge as Kost began to loudly weep a few yards away. “Every minute, hour and day is difficult. Our lives have been changed forever.”
When given his chance to speak, Kost’s father turned to Sweet’s family. “I can’t imagine the pain you’re going through,” he said.
Later, Richard Kost told the Observer that his son is not a monster. “A lot of stupid behavior on everybody’s part caused this,” he said. “Jacob’s a good kid, just like the other one.”
Kost’s attorney, Barbara Rynne told the judge that the accident had changed her client. “It cost someone else’s life for him to recognize he had a problem” with alcohol and drugs, she said.
Then it was Kost’s turn. Between tears, he pledged to Sweet’s family that while in prison and after his release, he will counsel other young people on the dangers of alcohol and drugs.
“I’ll do everything I can to keep other people from going through what you’re going through,” he said.
Boner sentenced Kost to 72 to 99 months in prison. As before, he also had a message.
“This is your chance to turn your life around,” the judge said. Use this as motivation to tell others “what happened to you and why it happened ... so some other young people can avoid the mistakes you made.
“It’s up to you.”
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