Over the last eight years, Nicholas Williams Driver has made a habit of crossing the line.
The first time was in October 2011 when, according to police records, his pickup truck crossed a two-lane highway in Citronelle before smashing into 76-year-old widower Peggy Martin’s Grand Marquis Mercury. She died at the scene.
He is now accused of colliding with someone in May 2018 when the same pickup truck again crossed the painted yellow line and smashed head on into a vehicle being driven by a heavily pregnant woman whose two sons were in the back seat.
The entire family was taken to hospital. The mother was forced to have an emergency C-section.
Driver was suspected of being drunk each time, according to both police reports.
After initially being charged with murder for the first collision in 2011, Driver was eventually convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years in jail in late November 2012. Multiple court documents indicate that it was an alcohol related offense. Driver only served one year in prison before being released on three years of probation.
Then, approximately seven months after being released from prison in late June 2014 and four years before he collided into the pregnant woman’s vehicle, Driver was pulled over in Citronelle and found to be more than twice over the legal alcohol limit, according to a police report from the time.
Empty beer cans were found in the passenger seat, while a cold beer with perspiration still on the can sat in the cup holder of his center console, the report states. He later refused a chemical breath test, according to court documents.
While questions over Driver’s suitability to be on the road were raised during various hearings and are documented in court records since his manslaughter conviction five and half years ago, the judge that presided the former police officer’s case decided not to send him back to jail. A leading legal expert in Alabama said that judge’s actions were lenient and unusual, while local prosecutors expressed annoyance at the decision.
"It’s unacceptable," said Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich to AL.com. "There’s every chance he could have still been in jail had his probation been revoked, and not been out on the road."
An mugshot of Nicholas Williams Driver. He was convicted of manslaughter in 2012 after hitting a colliding into another driver while in his truck. He has since gone on to be involved in more collisions.
Efforts to reach Driver and his past attorneys were unsuccessful.
Driver was ejected from his vehicle during the May 2018 collision and later flown to hospital by helicopter with suspected head trauma. Amanda Loper, the pregnant mother driving in the other vehicle, was trapped in the driver’s seat. She and her two children, ages five and eight, were taken to the hospital by family members.
Loper gave birth to a healthy baby boy by C-section as a result of the wreck.
Citronelle Police Department refused to say if charges would be brought, while a spokesperson for the Alabama State Troopers said it could be months before Driver’s toxicology report from the accident could be available.
"He should not have been let out of jail the first time," said Sarah Loper, Amanda’s sister. "It ended up putting all three of them in the hospital."
A Timeline of events that lead from Nicholas Williams manslaughter collision in 2011 to his most recent collision in May 2018.
2014 DUI ACCUSATIONS
After being charged with the DUI in 2014, Driver’s probation officer at the time recommended he face a revocation hearing in front of Judge John Youngpeter, the same Mobile circuit court judge that initially sentenced him to 15 years for manslaughter.
In a letter to the court, which referenced that Driver’s alcohol level was 0.18, the probation officer said that he had only started working with Driver that May and was concerned that "he never received proper counselling after the accident he was involved in that claimed the life of an innocent woman."
Rather than send Driver back to jail during the July 2014 probation hearing, the judge told Driver that he would not be allowed to drive pending the outcome of his DUI charge in Citronelle’s Municipal Court. Judge Youngpeter allowed Driver to sign his own $1,000 bond and allowed him to leave.
Citronelle court documents show that Driver was initially charged with having an expired tag, an open container, reckless driving, and driving under the influence. But again, he wasn’t sent back to jail.
John Carroll, Dean of the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, said that Driver was very lucky to avoid having his probation revoked.
"Generally, the practice in this state and anywhere else is that if someone is on probation for a drunk driving offence and are caught driving drunk again that revocation is almost always the outcome," said Carroll, who added that the revocation of probation doesn’t need to wait for a conviction. "Further evidence that you’re continuing to consume alcohol and driving recklessly would likely result in revocation in most courts."
Carroll also expressed surprise at the leniency of the judge’s manslaughter sentence in 2012, given that Driver was a police officer for Mount Vernon police department for four years, leaving around 2008/09.
"Generally, if you were a sentencing judge you’d take that into account that he was a police officer and perhaps impose a more serious sentence," added Carroll.
However, after a plea deal in Citronelle’s Municipal Court, Driver was convicted Oct. 2, 2014 of reckless driving and having an expired tag charges. The other charges were dropped. His sentence for the two convictions did not appear on court records.
A closer inspection of Driver’s final manslaughter conviction from 2012 does not include that it was connected to driving under the influence, despite numerous court documents stating that he had been drinking on the day he killed Smart. The DUI element of the conviction was dropped as part of the plea deal. This is known as nolle pros and does not amount to an acquittal, but instead a dropping of the charges by the prosecution, said Carroll.
A week after the conclusion of the Citronelle case in 2014, the Mobile D.A. tried to have Driver’s probation revoked again. Court documents indicate that witnesses saw him driving on September 30, two days before he was due in court in Citronelle and against the judge’s instructions. On Oct. 9, and despite witness testimony that Driver had breached the conditions of his probation, Mobile Circuit Court Judge Youngpeter again denied the revocation of Driver’s probation.
Driver’s probation expired in late 2016.
Judge Youngpeter did not return multiple calls for comment. There are also no court documents explaining how Judge Youngpeter came to his decision.
Carroll said that given Driver’s 2012 conviction was for manslaughter, the reckless driving conviction in 2014 should have been more than enough to result in some kind of revocation by Judge Youngpeter. Carroll said that even though Driver wasn’t convicted of the DUI in 2014, it still could have been used as part of evidence in his revocation hearing.
"In order to revoke probation, a court must be reasonably satisfied from the evidence that the defendant violated the conditions of his probation," said Carroll. "But the burden of proof is a much lower burden of proof than reasonable doubt which is the standard before you can be convicted of an offense.
"Thus, a defendant could be acquitted of driving under the influence and still have his probation revoked if a court, after hearing evidence, was reasonably satisfied that the defendant was driving under the influence in violation of the terms and conditions of his probation."
A woman prays in the grass outside the Alamo Gym where parents wait to reunite with their kids following a shooting at Santa Fe High School Friday, May 18, 2018 in Santa Fe. ( Michael Ciaglo / Houston Chronicle )