Crime

Judge suppresses evidence in DWI case against medical examiner

Dr. Brent Hall, a pathologist in Boone, was medical examiner when three guests died of carbon monoxide poisoning at the Best Western hotel.
Dr. Brent Hall, a pathologist in Boone, was medical examiner when three guests died of carbon monoxide poisoning at the Best Western hotel. Paboone.com

A Superior Court judge has suppressed evidence in a DWI case against Dr. Brent Hall, meaning that the charge against the former medical examiner in Boone could be dismissed.

Judge Gary Gavenus ruled that when deputies arrested Hall in 2010 they violated his Fourth Amendment rights prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure. Because of that, Gavenus suppressed statements by Hall that night, observations of the officers, field sobriety tests and chemical analysis of Hall’s breath.

Hall, 54, was medical examiner in 2013 when three guests died of carbon monoxide poisoning at the Best Western in Boone. In an investigation into the deaths, the Observer reported about Hall’s DWI arrest. Court documents show that his blood alcohol level was 0.19 – more than twice the legal limit.

Hall recently told the Observer that he has not drunk alcohol in more than four years.

After Daryl and Shirley Jenkins died at the Best Western in April 2013, Hall sent samples of their blood to the state lab for testing. The state alerted Hall about carbon monoxide poisoning in June, but the results were not made public until after 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams died in the same room. The deadly gas was traced to a swimming pool water heating system.

Hall has said he would like to tell his side of the story but attorneys advised him not to talk.

An appeal?

In a hearing on the DWI case earlier this month, defense attorney Jay Vannoy contended that deputies worked together to set up Hall for arrest and asked that the evidence be suppressed. Prosecutors, who could not be reached, could appeal the judge’s ruling.

But attorney George Laughrun of Charlotte, who specializes in DWI, said their chances of winning are slim. Laughrun said appellate judges usually defer in such cases to the findings of the trial judge.

Gavenus ruled that the officers did not have “reasonable articulable suspicion” to stop Hall.

“To stop somebody for DWI, you’ve got to have reasonable suspicion,” Laughrun said. “They were weaving in the roadway, they were speeding ...”

The issues

▪ One officer testified that he saw a Toyota 4Runner outside a barn and a man pacing in front of the headlights. He said he thought it might be a break-in.

Gavenus held that Hall “had a reasonable expectation of privacy” at his barn and that the officer’s entry through a gate constituted an unreasonable search and seizure.

▪ The officer advised Hall, who had been drinking, not to drive for an hour. Hall testified that he waited that long and then drove the speed limit with his cruise control on.

The second officer wrote in an affidavit that she stopped Hall for speeding. Gavenus held that Hall was driving in a legal manner and the officer’s had no reasonable suspicion to stop him.

Leland: 704-358-5074

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