12/18/06 — Attorney to defend trooper in DWI case

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Attorney to defend trooper in DWI case

By Lee Williams
Published in News on December 18, 2006 1:46 PM

A Smithfield attorney tapped to represent a former Wayne County sheriff's deputy charged with drunken driving, but who pleaded guilty to a minor violation, has been hired by a local state trooper accused of DWI.

Meanwhile, the county has paid more than $13,500 to cover a portion of the damages to the former deputy's patrol car in the other driving while under the influence case.

Now, defense attorney John P. O'Hale is expected to represent Trooper Darian Neal Smith, who was charged with drunken driving following a Sept. 11 accident.

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 and was severely injured.

Smith, who was charged with DWI, was scheduled to appear in court Dec. 14. However, the case was moved to Feb. 5. Smith remains on the force, but is out on sick leave, officials said.

O'Hale is the attorney who represented former Deputy Matt Sasser, who was charged with DWI following an accident Sept. 12 in Princeton.

Sasser, 23, of LaGrange, had just got off work in Eureka and went to visit his friend, Matthew Holloman. Sasser was off-duty, but 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 totaled his patrol car on Rains Crossroads Road after visiting Holloman at about 3:30 a.m. Sasser abandoned the wrecked 2005 Ford Crown Victoria. A passerby spotted the car and reported the incident. Sasser later returned to his patrol car with minor scratches and bruises.

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 DWI.

Damages to the car were set at $8,500. The county paid a $1,000 deductible and the county's insurance company paid out about $10,500 for the car.

It will cost between $21,000 to $23,000 to replace the damaged patrol car with a brand new one, Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders said. Based on rough estimates, the accident has left the county with a net loss of about $13,500.

The wrecked patrol car has since been replaced, Winders said.

Despite the county's loss, Sasser was allowed to plead to a lesser charge of unsafe movement during his court appearance in Benson Dec. 8.

Johnston County District Court Judge Edward McCormick ordered Sasser to pay $110 court costs, court officials said. No probation, community service, restitution or jail time was imposed, 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 hurt his ability to resurrect his career.