Deputy: Ex-crew chief ran him off road

A former NASCAR pit crew chief tested over five times the legal alcohol limit shortly after he lost control of his tow truck Thursday, causing a wreck that killed the owner of a Mooresville art gallery, a prosecutor says.

Authorities say Tim Kohuth ran a sheriff's deputy off the road seconds before the Iredell County crash. An officer at the scene found an open beer between Kohuth's legs, Iredell County Assistant District Attorney Scott Cranford said.

Kohuth has a history of impaired driving, with two convictions in 2006. He has also been convicted of operating a boat while impaired. Now he's charged with second-degree murder.

The wreck killed Wesley Worden, owner of a Mooresville gallery that sells oil paintings. On Friday night, Worden's wife, Gail, was listed in fair condition at Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, where she is recovering from injuries suffered in the accident.

Highway Patrol Trooper David Reid, who is investigating the crash, gave this account:

Kohuth was driving a flatbed tow truck on Brawley School Road when he veered over the center line, forcing a sheriff's deputy who was heading the opposite direction off the road. The deputy turned his vehicle around and began following Kohuth, hoping to stop his truck.

Moments later, at about 10:45 a.m., Kohuth's vehicle ran off the heavily traveled road to the right, struck a mailbox, hit a culvert and then careened over the center line. The truck collided with Worden's oncoming SUV.

At the hospital soon afterward, a test showed Kohuth's alcohol level was 0.43 percent – well over the 0.08 legal limit, Cranford said. Tests showed Kohuth also had other impairing substances in his blood, Cranford said, but authorities aren't yet sure what those substances were.

Investigators have obtained video footage showing that Kohuth purchased a 24-ounce beer minutes before the collision, Reid said.

At a first appearance in District Court Friday, a judge granted the prosecutor's request to raise Kohuth's bond from $500,000 to $1 million.

During a video appearance from jail, Kohuth told the judge: “I am really sorry for everything that has gone on,” according to WCNC-TV, the Observer's news partner.

Kohuth, a 47-year-old Mooresville resident who was once a crew chief in the NASCAR Craftsman truck series, remained in jail Friday night.

According to court records, Kohuth's first DWI arrest came after an Iredell County wreck in March 2006. Authorities found his alcohol level was 0.20. During his second arrest, in October 2006, Kohuth was found to have an alcohol level of 0.24 – three times the legal limit.

He was convicted both times.

The following year, he was convicted of operating a boat on Lake Norman while he was impaired. Tests showed his alcohol level was 0.17 that time.

Kohuth was able to get his license reinstated in April of this year, with the condition that his car be equipped with an ignition interlock, a breath-testing device that doesn't allow drivers to start their cars if they've been drinking too much.

At the time of Thursday's wreck, Kohuth was driving a tow truck that was not equipped with the interlock. It was owned by the vintage car restoration business he operates in Mooresville, authorities said.

A now-closed loophole in state law may help explain why Kohuth was allowed to get his license back this year, despite his repeated convictions.

According to court clerks, Kohuth initially appealed his first DWI conviction and later dropped the appeal.

Experts told the Observer that may have made his record look clean at the time of his second DWI conviction – allowing him to escape jail time and a four-year license suspension.

Revisions to the state's DWI law, which went into effect in December 2006, closed that loophole, making it harder for repeat drunk drivers to avoid stiff sentences simply by appealing charges.

Under state law, impaired boating charges don't affect a person's motor vehicle license.

If convicted of the current charges, Kohuth could face from eight years to more than 30 years in prison.

Staff Database Editor Ted Mellnik contributed.