12/11/06 — Ex-sheriff's deputy pleads to lesser charge

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Ex-sheriff's deputy pleads to lesser charge

By Lee Williams
Published in News on December 11, 2006 1:46 PM

BENSON -- A former sheriff's deputy who totaled his patrol car and was later found to be under the influence of alcohol five hours after leaving a friend's house in Princeton won't see any jail time, a judge decided Friday.

Meanwhile, another Wayne County law enforcement officer charged with drunken driving awaits his day in court.

Former Wayne County Sheriff's Deputy Matt Sasser stood before Johnston County Chief District Court Judge Edward McCormick to answer a drunken driving charge Friday, court officials said.

McCormick allowed Sasser to plead guilty to a lesser charge of unsafe movement violation. Sasser, 23, of LaGrange, was ordered to pay $110 court costs, court officials said. No probation, community service or jail time was imposed, court officials said.

If convicted of DWI, Sasser could have lost his driver's license and faced up to a maximum of two months in jail. A DWI conviction also could have damaged his law enforcement career.

The court hearing marked an end to a chapter in Sasser's life that began on Sept. 12. It was on that day that Sasser totaled his patrol car on Rains Crossroads Road in Princeton after visiting his friend, Trooper Matthew Holloman.

Sasser had just got off work in Eureka before visiting Holloman. Sasser was off-duty at the time, but was still in uniform and did not have permission to drive his patrol car outside of Wayne County unless he was assisting other law enforcement agencies, sheriff's officials said.

Sasser abandoned the wrecked patrol car. A passer-by spotted the car and reported the incident. Sasser later returned to his patrol car suffering from minor scratches and bruises from the crash that occurred about 3:30 a.m.

A blood sample taken from Sasser more than five hours after the accident revealed his blood alcohol level was .08 percent, the level at which drivers in North Carolina are considered impaired.

Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders fired Sasser immediately after he was charged with driving while impaired.

Trooper Darian Smith, who was charged with DWI following a Sept. 11 accident, however, is still on the payroll. Smith is assigned to the Wilson Highway Patrol. His court hearing is scheduled for Thursday at the Wayne County Courthouse.

Smith, 31, of Goldsboro, was traveling on Hare Road at 1:50 a.m. when he lost control of his motorcycle and ran off the road. He was thrown from his bike during the collision.

Smith allegedly was found to be driving while impaired. A blood sample was taken. However, the test results are unavailable nearly three months after the accident, court officials said.

"Darian Smith is still employed with the Highway Patrol, but he's on sick leave," said Patty McQuillan, a patrol spokesman.

Smith received severe injuries in the accident and is still recovering. An internal investigation was launched against Smith, but, for now the inquiry is on hold.

"Apparently, he was injured during this accident, so the investigation is pending," Ms. McQuillan said.

A DWI charge could end a trooper's career, Highway Patrol officials said. The patrol has an aggressive stance when it comes to drunken drivers.