Drag racer gets 9 years in assault

N.C. professional driver pointed gun at woman after sideswiping her car with his RV

April 08, 2009|By Don Markus | Don Markus,don.markus@baltsun.com

A professional drag racer was sentenced Tuesday by a Howard County judge to nine years in jail for assault in a road rage incident that culminated with him pointing a gun at a woman in the parking lot of a Columbia restaurant last summer.

John Palmer Higgins of Fayetteville, N.C., pleaded guilty to first-degree assault after the Aug. 17 incident that began when the recreational vehicle he was driving - with a rig attached to his drag racer - sideswiped a car.

Prosecutors said the other driver, Cynthia Eskridge, followed the RV to an Applebee's parking lot on Benson Drive, not far from Interstate 95 and Route 175. Higgins pointed a gun into her car and uttered racial epithets to Eskridge, who is African-American. Eskridge called police, and Higgins was arrested.

According to charging documents, Higgins told police that someone else was driving the RV when Eskridge's car was hit. Police said a search of the RV yielded two other loaded handguns belonging to Higgins, as well as drug paraphernalia. Charges relating to those items were dropped as part of the plea agreement, prosecutors said.

At Tuesday's sentencing hearing, Senior Assistant State's Attorney Claude de Vastey Jones emphasized Higgins' arrest record in Virginia and North Carolina.

According to Howard County state's attorney spokesman Wayne Kirwan, cases are pending against Higgins, who was charged in both states with possession of a handgun by a convicted felon, including an assault while pointing a weapon in North Carolina.

Higgins, known professionally as "Jay," also had five drug convictions dating to 1995, according to prosecutors.

Paul Mack, Higgins' attorney, sought to have all but 18 months of the sentence suspended and served at the Howard County Detention Center. Judge Diane Leasure, who could have sentenced Higgins to up to 14 years on the assault charge, said he would have to serve at least half of the term before being eligible for parole.

Mack declined to comment afterward. Eskridge was not present in court and could not be reached for comment.

Higgins is the subject of a 2007 profile posted on CompetitionPlus.com, billed as the Internet magazine of drag racing. The article refers to his racing comeback after getting shot in both legs in a dispute with a contractor, an incident he said changed his "hotheaded" personality.

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