Tuesday, May 24, 2005

8th DWI May Be His Last

One drunken driving conviction is enough to scare most people into thinking twice about drinking before they get behind the wheel, said Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley.

But some folks just don’t seem to learn their lesson.

Gibbs, a 49-year-old country and western musician from Marshall, is on trial this week in District Court in Williamson County for his eighth drunken driving arrest since 1986. He has seven convictions in five counties and has spent years in prison.

He could face 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors are asking for a life sentence. Gibbs' lawyers, who have yet to present their case, have hinted that alcohol wasn't fully to blame for Gibbs' most recent arrest.

A charge of felony drunken driving allows disclosure of only two prior convictions. Jurors wouldn't hear about Gibbs' five other convictions until the sentencing phase of the trial, prosecutors said.

On Tuesday, truck driver Steve Black testified that Gibbs was weaving across lanes of traffic on Interstate 35 near Georgetown about 1 a.m. on Dec. 5, 2003. Black, who drives a route from Dallas to San Antonio five times a week, said Gibbs' driving was so erratic it warranted one of six phone calls to 911 that he has made regarding reckless driving in 10 years.

Black said he and the white van Gibbs was driving were the only cars on the road, but Gibbs cut into his lane only a few feet in front of his rig. A few minutes later, Gibbs exited the highway, he said.

Georgetown police officer Jason Jones caught up to Gibbs just as he was pulling onto the shoulder near Texas 29. When Jones approached, Gibbs was talking on his cell phone and said he was lost, Jones testified. Jones said Gibbs' breath smelled of alcohol and his speech was slurred.

Jurors watched a videotape of Gibbs performing field sobriety tests, such as walking nine steps heel to toe and balancing on one leg.

"That's enough -- I've seen enough," Jones said on the tape after watching Gibbs stumble repeatedly attempting to stand and walk heel to toe and straying out into the roadway.

Gibb’s defense lawyer hinted in questioning that a foot injury and prescription medication may have hindered Gibbs' performance on the field sobriety tests.

Prosecutors said that if the jury finds Gibbs guilty and decides he used his car as a deadly weapon, he would not be eligible for parole until he has served half of his sentence.

Department of Public Safety records show that Gibbs' license has been suspended several times since 1986.

Gibbs completed a four-year prison sentence in 2001 and was not arrested again until 2003.
Keith Hampton, a lobbyist for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said Gibbs' history is an indication that the system does not do enough to rehabilitate repeat offenders.

"That guy is more of a symbol of what we did wrong to remedy people who are hooked on alcohol," Hampton said.

Prosecutors said Gibbs' treatment history would be introduced in the sentencing phase of the trial.

Driving while intoxicated
In Texas, the legal limit for intoxication is a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent. Punishment for DWI varies depending on the number of convictions:
First offense
* Up to $2,000 fine
* Three to 180 days in jail
* Driver's license suspended for 90 days to one year

Second offense
* Up to $4,000 fine
* 30 days to one year in jail
* Driver's license suspended for 180 days to two years

Third offense
* Up to $10,000 fine
* Two to 10 years in prison
* Driver's license suspended for 180 days to two years
Source: Texas Department of Transportation

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