No jail time for Realtor who drove away after hitting woman

Diane Carpenter
Diane Carpenter

Realtor Diane Carpenter was convicted in County Court on Wednesday of leaving the scene of an accident that seriously injured a woman, but Carpenter received no jail time.

Judge Gaston Hewes accepted a Gulfport prosecutor’s recommendation that Carpenter’s 180-day sentence be suspended as long as she completes a drug and alcohol assessment and follows the instructions from that result. Hewes also accepted the prosecutor’s recommended fine of $2,500.

“You’re going to have to do what I order,” Hewes told Carpenter, “or you’re going to serve some jail time.”

The woman whom Carpenter hit, 84-year-old Ethelyn Willhoite, was seated in the courtroom for what was supposed to be a jury trial. Instead, Carpenter changed her plea to “no contest,” meaning she did not contest the charge, before the judge convicted and sentenced her.

Carpenter had appealed her original conviction from Gulfport Municipal Court. She also is appealing a DUI conviction in Long Beach, where an officer stopped her after she drove away from the accident in Gulfport. The DUI case is scheduled for trial in May in County Court.

Carpenter’s attorney, Gail Nicholson, told Hewes her client intends to follow his directions. Nicholson also said a licensed clinical psychologist is treating Carpenter.

Willhoite has a separate civil lawsuit pending in Harrison County Circuit Court against Carpenter and Treasure Bay Casino, alleging gross negligence. She is asking that a jury compensate her for medical bills, pain and suffering, and disfigurement.

Because of the lawsuit, Willhoite and her attorney did not want to comment on Carpenter’s conviction.

The prosecutor said Willhoite had almost $500,000 in medical bills from the night of March 26, 2015.

One witness said Willhoite was standing on the side of westbound U.S. 90 near DeBuys Road when Carpenter’s Audi SUV hit her. Carpenter swerved, then kept going.

“Ms. Diane Carpenter failed to stop,” prosecutor Maxine Conway told the judge before sentencing. “Ms. Willhoite fell to the ground when she was run over by the front passenger tire. Ms. Carpenter did not look back. She did not provide the victim with assistance.”

Conway said Willhoitte was hospitalized for four weeks, followed by six weeks of outpatient treatment. The skin was peeled from her right foot and she had to have a titanium plate to hold together her ankle.

A witness subpoenaed for pretrial testimony in the civil case said he had been with Carpenter before the accident at a real estate seminar at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino. The evening wound down at Treasure Bay, where he said he offered to give her a ride home.

Carpenter testified she had two vodka and sodas, plus a small cup of wine, through the course of the evening.

When she was stopped in Long Beach, she admitted in civil testimony she refused an officer’s request to walk a straight line. Officers subpoenaed her for a blood-alcohol test. Two hours later, evidence shows, she tested .171, a little more than twice the legal limit.

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99