Man gets 12 years for DUI

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Lauderdale County man who moved to Lewisburg for a job was sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined $3,000 after a jury found him guilty of multiple offences relating to operating a motor vehicle.

William James Johnson, 45, was convicted on Nov. 20 of his fifth offence of driving under the influence, and fourth offense of driving while his driver's license was revoked, as well as the offence of driving after being declared a habitual motor vehicle offender.

Judge Robert Crigler sentenced Johnson on Jan. 7 to six years for the DUI and driving on revoked, and six years for driving after being declared HMVO, to run consecutively. Crigler categorized Johnson as a "career" offender who should serve 60 percent of his sentence. This means that he could be getting out of prison in the spring of 2016.

Johnson's story, according to the pre-sentencing report prepared by investigating officer Jim Grimes, is a sad one.

"I started drinking at age 14," Johnson told Grimes. "My parents passed away. It was getting pretty bad. I drank beer and whiskey on weekends."

He dropped out of school after 11th grade, and worked at a variety of low-paid jobs in Lauderdale County.

Johnson's record shows a long history of trouble with the police, starting with a conviction for driving without a license in 1987. Ten years later - after convictions for DUI, driving on revoked, and reckless driving - Johnson was declared a HMVO. Johnson served two stretches of time in the Lauderdale County Jail for driving offences, and 25 months in state custody for aggravated assault. In 1999 he attempted suicide and spent two months in a mental health center.

"In 2001 I quit drinking," Johnson reportedly told Grimes. "I was about to lose my family. I wanted to hold on to my family."

"You have not been drinking since 2001?" asked Grimes.

"Right," Johnson replied. "I have been alcohol free...thanks to Lord God."

Johnson moved to Lewisburg from Ripley in late August 2007, to take a job at Southern Logistics and Warehousing, and brought his wife and children to join him here later that year.

Apart from the fact that he had no driver's license and was never supposed to drive because he had been declared a habitual motor vehicle offender, it appeared that perhaps Johnson had turned his life around: he had a steady job and a place to live, and had been sober for seven years.

That is, until February 2008, when he was "taking a man home from work" and accepted an invitation to go into the man's house for a "hot totty," which turned out to contain alcohol. Officer Steve Sanders Jr. of the Lewisburg Police Department pulled Johnson over on Tankersley Street, after witnessing him driving erratically on West Commerce.

"I want to let the judge know I am sorry for DUI," said Johnson when he was interviewed by Grimes at the jail on Dec. 8. "I really was not drinking, but I know a hot totty is made our of alcohol. If you will give me probation I will appreciate it."

Given Johnson's history, however, Crigler decided that a long, custodial sentence was the only appropriate response.