Crime

Man facing 10th DUI could finally see serious jail time if convicted

Hear about a DUI crackdown

Harrison County Prosecutor Herman Cox makes use of tough new DUI law.
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Harrison County Prosecutor Herman Cox makes use of tough new DUI law.

Charles H. “Chuck” Bennett needed a drink, or so he later told a sheriff’s investigator.

Bennett was due in court Wednesday morning on a DUI charge. It wasn’t his first. Bennett decided to stop Tuesday evening at Pinocchio’s lounge, County Prosecutor Herman Cox said he later learned.

Close to midnight, Bennett was headed south on U.S. 49 when blue lights flashed behind him. When Bennett failed to stop, the deputy turned on his siren. Bennett kept going, at up to 70 miles per hour, drifting between lane markers, the deputy’s report said.

Bennett turned onto Mississippi 53 and drove until spike strips set out by deputies deflated the tires of his 2005 Chevy Silverado pickup, the report said.

Bennett drove on the tire rims, crossing the center line of Shaw Road, until he reached his driveway. Then, the report said, he jumped out of the truck and ran. He was felled by darts from a stun gun and arrested. At the jail, deputies found only two previous DUIs on Bennett’s record.

Cox knew of more. He had compiled quite a history on Bennett. It’s not always easy. DUI arrests and convictions in multiple jurisdictions mean a complete driving record is not always available. But Cox knew Bennett had been driving drunk on the Coast since at least 2006, when he was first convicted in Gulfport.

Long DUI history

Bennett had reason to fear going to court the next morning. From 2006 through 2014, court records show, he was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol eight times in Coast jurisdictions.

All told, he had spent only a year on house arrest and been sentenced to another year in jail. For his ninth DUI, in Harrison County in November, Bennett was looking at up to five years in prison because he had been charged with his third offense in five years, a felony. It was his second felony DUI charge.

The sheriff’s report from that November stop said the deputy asked Bennett how many drinks he had consumed. “Too many,” Bennett replied. His breath test showed that he had consumed more than twice the legal limit of alcohol.

Cox said he got a call Wednesday morning from the sheriff’s investigator. The investigator said he was calling about a man who was supposed to be in court but sat in jail instead, charged with felony DUI and evading law enforcement.

“I said, ‘That wouldn’t be Mr. Charles Bennett, would it?” Cox told the Sun Herald. Even before Bennett was arrested, Cox had prepared paperwork to convert the November DUI into a more serious felony under a state law that took effect Oct. 1. Before then, someone could be charged with felony DUI only if they had three convictions within five years.

‘It’s sad’

“These defendants who just habitually continue to drive (drunk), it doesn’t seem to have any effect on them,” Cox said. “You put them in the county jail for six months.

“This particular defendant, because of my prosecutions on prior cases, he spent well over a year in county jail. He got out, started all over again.”

Under the new law, a fourth DUI means a felony charge with up to double the jail time of a third offense regardless of when the previous DUIs occurred. Cox said he has already used the law in five cases and hopes it will help curb repeat offenses.

Bennett is ineligible for bond because he has violated parole from his 2012 conviction in Jackson County. With his latest arrest, Cox said, Bennett faces another felony DUI.

Bennett’s boss up until the time of his arrest, Kevin Chandler, just can’t understand it. Chandler manages Sumrall Sales & Service on U.S. 49. Bennett was a service writer, preparing tickets for vehicles that needed work. He came to work sober and on time every day, Chandler said. Chandler said he knew Bennett had problems outside of work.

But Bennett genuinely cared about his customers and was diligent in seeing they got the service they needed at the right price.

“It’s sad because everyone loves him,” Chandler said. “I just hope the good Lord takes care of him in jail.”

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

Bennett’s DUI record

First- and second-offense DUIs are misdemeanors, while a third offense, if committed within five years of two previous DUIs, is a felony. A maximum 48 hours in jail is the first-offense penalty, while a second offense mandates five days to six months in jail. A third offense within five years carries a penalty of one to five years in jail. On Oct. 1, a new state law went into effect that mandates two to 10 years in prison for a fourth DUI conviction, regardless of the time frame. Fines and license suspensions, not listed here, also applied in the cases.

  • April 2006: Gulfport, convicted of first-offense DUI; sentenced to two days in jail, suspended; 12 months’ probation, alcohol education classes
  • July 2006: Biloxi, convicted of first-offense DUI; ordered to complete alcohol education program.
  • April 2007: Long Beach, first-offense DUI; ordered to complete alcohol education program.
  • November 2009: Harrison County, first-offense DUI, 12 months’ probation, alcohol and victim-impact education programs.
  • December 2010: Harrison County, second-offense DUI; 12 months in jail; alcohol assessment and treatment, if recommended.
  • February 2012: Jackson County, third-offense, DUI, a felony; one year on house arrest, four years post-release supervision.
  • May 2013: Hancock County, first-offense DUI; sentenced to two days in jail, suspended and alcohol and victim-impact education programs.
  • October 2014: Gulfport, first-offense DUI; two days in jail, suspended, 12 months’ probation, alcohol and victim-impact education programs.
  • November 2016: Harrison County, charged as third offense, felony DUI
  • January 2017: Charged with fourth-offense DUI, a felony.

Mississippi Code; court records

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