'I'll be punished for killing mama' Case of repeat drunken driver reveals flaws in a crowded system.

October 13, 1997

NEWS REPORTS carry enough horror stories about drunken driving to make any thinking person pause before getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. But how do you reach an incorrigible alcoholic who does not think before driving?

No one reached Charles H. Sexton, of Woodbine, who was driving along a western Howard County road last March to a carryout shop with his mother and 11-year-old nephew. He was drunk to start with and was getting more intoxicated as he consumed beer along the way.

Sexton, 48, rammed his car into a utility pole.

He and his nephew survived the crash.

His 75-year-old mother did not.

Sexton was not a first-time offender. Or a second- or third-timer. He had been convicted of drunken driving nine times in 29 years. The Motor Vehicle Administration revoked his driver's license 19 years ago.

The punishment he received for his previous convictions remains unclear. Family members say he spent some time in jail, though obviously not enough to deter him from committing the life-endangering offense again and again.

His disturbing case reveals cracks in the high-volume District Court system. Police arrested him on drunken driving charges in August 1996. Though he failed to appear for trial, he never was brought to justice. A judge ordered his arrest, but he was considered a less serious priority than other criminal offenders.

Although old convictions are not considered in sentencing, Sexton's history should have warranted a severe punishment at some point.

Neither the punishment he received previously nor the lack of a license stopped him from sliding into the driver's seat of that car while drunk last March.

He finally is getting a meaningful punishment. As a judge sentenced him last week to five years in prison for homicide by motor vehicle, he muttered, "I'll be punished for killing mama until I die." For all the drunken drivers who kill others' loved ones, the courtroom scene of a man, ringed by his sisters, who had riven his own family with such grief was indeed tragic.

Alcohol is a factor in 40 percent of traffic fatalities. Police, prosecutors and judges must remain vigilant in identifying repeat violators and reaching them before they kill.

Pub Date: 10/13/97

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