Crime & Courts

Man sentenced for assaulting highly decorated, 78-year-old Vietnam War veteran

A Hickory man will spend a month in jail for breaking the jaw of a highly decorated, 78-year-old Vietnam War veteran.

Clarence Martin Hayes III, 33, pleaded guilty in Catawba County Superior Court on Tuesday to felony assault inflicting serious bodily injury. A judge gave him a suspended “split” sentence of 16 to 29 months, with 30 months probation. He ordered Hayes to spend a month in the Catawba County Jail.

Clarence Martin Hayes III
Clarence Martin Hayes III Catawba County Jail

Veteran James Stonemetz confronted Hayes last June about riding an ATV across his lawn. When Stonemetz told Hayes to stay off the property, Hayes rode toward Stonemetz, stood up on the ATV and punched him in the face before riding away, the Catawba County District Attorney’s Office said Wednesday.

The blow broke Stonemetz’s jaw so seriously that he received treatment at both Frye Regional Medical Center in Hickory and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem. His mouth was wired shut for six weeks.

“Do I look like enough of a threat that I have to get my jaw broken?” James Stonemetz told the Hickory Daily Record a couple of weeks after the assault. “I’m a disabled veteran. I served in Vietnam and was exposed to Agent Orange.”

Stonemetz earned numerous medals for his service in the Army during the Vietnam War, including the Bronze Star for meritorious service, an Army Commendation and three Good Conduct awards, according to the district attorney’s office.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak