I-Team Investigation: Man with 15 DUI arrests behind the wheel

Print
Email
|

by Adam Walser

WHAS11.com

Posted on February 2, 2012 at 7:21 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 2 at 7:22 PM

(WHAS11) -- Kentucky is a no tolerance state when it comes to drunk driving.

If you are caught repeatedly driving drunk, you will forfeit your license and could go to jail.

But it turns out not everyone is paying the price for their crime.

The penalty for DUI is not always cut and dry.

While the Jefferson County Attorney's Office currently has a conviction rate of more than 90 percent, we discovered a suspect still behind the wheel while waiting to stand trial for his 15th DUI offense.

On a recent weekday, WHAS11 cameras caught Rickie Lee Walker, Jr. on video, driving to his parents' Okalona pawn shop.

The 41-year-old was driving his mom and dad's car without a license.

“It's only a matter of time until he hurts someone,” his sister, Angela Fowler, said.

She contacted WHAS11 after Rickie got what court records show is his 15th DUI charge.

“He drinks and drives to the point of where he's stumbling to the car and he gets back behind the wheel,” Fowler said.

His most recent arrest was in October.

Police pulled him over and say he was driving a Harley Davidson between 75 and 80 miles per hour on Preston Highway

The police report says he admitted to drinking six to eight beers and taking pain medicine.

While Rickie has paid fines and served a few days in the county jail or under house arrest, he has avoided felony prosecution for DUI.

“He has not had to serve any consequences for these DUI offenses, so he continues to repeatedly get them,” Fowler said.

“I think it would be very troubling to anybody looking at this. They should be concerned,” Louisville Attorney Benham Sims, III said.

Through jail, court and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet records, we discovered Walker was first busted for drunk driving when he was 17-years-old and faced charges in at least three Kentucky counties.

In addition to DUIs, we found arrests for assault, escape, wanton endangerment and trafficking cocaine.

Despite more than a dozen drunken driving convictions, he was allowed to enter into a felony diversion program when he was caught selling crack cocaine.

Walker has received two DUIs since entering into that agreement.

One of them was charged as a Fourth Offense felony DUI, but was later amended down to a second offense by the court.

“This information you have is not available to the prosecutor,” Sims, as we showed him files related to Walker’s record, said.

Sims is a former Jefferson County DUI prosecutor who wrote the Kentucky DUI Prosecutor's Handbook.

Sims says Walker may be slipping through the cracks because prosecutors and judges aren't seeing and can't consider his whole record.

“The problem is that we still need to get a single system of information that's available for the court, that's available for the defense, that's available for the police and certainly for the prosecutors,” Sims said.

There's another reason some cases may not get high priority.

“The Hall of Justice is the most used building in the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Defense Attorney Frank Mascagni said.

He says Walker's cases are among thousands that are heard each day in Jefferson County.

Many cases can have three or four hearings each.

In each hearing, there can be witnesses, experts, police officers and others who have to participate.

Combined, the cases create millions of pages of documentary evidence.

“And you're being fed cases every few seconds. It's kind of like a MASH hospital. You're triaging the best you can with the quality of information you have before you,” Sims said.

Fowler, who is a trauma nurse, doesn't buy it.

“If I give your family member the wrong medication and cause them to become ill, or worse, to die, would you consider that to be an excuse? Because I had multiple patients and was overwhelmed?” Fowler said.

Fowler is already caring for her brother Rickie's 7-year-old son as a result of a drunken driving accident.

In 2007, Walker's girlfriend plowed into a tree, throwing the boy through the windshield.

“His mother was drinking and driving. He had to have surgery because of the accident. He was put in my custody,” said Fowler, who said she’s concerned Walker will regain custody of the child before he’s resolved his alcohol problem.

In walker's latest DUI case, the breathalyzer test was administered by a Metro Corrections officer who failed to maintain his certification, so the blood alcohol level test can't be used as evidence.

It is one of more than 600 cases affected, including a DUI murder case.

“This is an institutional flaw that I’ve never seen before,” Mascagni said.

In Walker's latest case, the state still shows his license in good standing.

“The court, at arraignment, suspended his license,” Sims said. “I don't have an answer for that. That's part of the problem of competing databases.”

We followed Rickie in his mom and dad's car to his mom and dad's pawn shop.

He ran into a back room and refused to talk to us.

We tried to talk to him again at his latest scheduled court hearing last week, but as is often the case, he didn't show up, and his attorney continued it.

“I hate to do this to my family, but I feel like I have a responsibility to the community,” said Fowler. “I cannot be the only one that has a family member that is doing this over and over again. It's not just my brother.”

The county attorney's office says that laws prohibiting prosecutors from considering cases more than 5-years-old may be partially to blame for him not facing tougher penalties.

Currently, DUI doesn't become a felony until it is a fourth offense in five years.

Walker actually was charged with DUI Fourth Offense in 2009, but the charge was amended to DUI 2nd, preventing him from facing harsher penalties them.

When he was arrested on that charge, Walker was already on probation as part of his felony diversion program.
 

Print
Email
|