Crime

Real estate agent convicted of leaving accident scene, DUI

Carpenter
Carpenter

GULFPORT -- A Coast real estate agent is appealing convictions on charges of leaving the scene of an accident in Gulfport, then driving while drunk in Long Beach.

Diane Carpenter, 57, also faces a civil lawsuit over severe injuries an elderly woman suffered when she was hit by an Audi SUV that Carpenter was driving.

Ethelyn Willhoite is suing Carpenter and Treasure Bay Casino in Circuit Court, alleging gross negligence. She is asking that a jury compensate her for medical bills, pain and suffering, and disfigurement. One witness testified to seeing Willhoite standing on the side of U.S. 90 just west of DeBuys Road when the SUV hit her on the night of March 27, 2015.

Willhoite, who lives part-time in Gulfport at Legacy condominiums, suffered fractures in both legs and broken bones, her lawsuit says. The skin was peeled off one of her feet to the bone.

Gulfport accident

A witness testified he had been with Carpenter that evening at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino after a real estate seminar. They then went to White Pillars in Biloxi for a Chamber event and, finally, to Treasure Bay. They were business associates.

The witness said he offered Carpenter a ride home to Pass Christian, assuming the drinks he saw her consume contained alcohol, although he was not certain. Carpenter testified she had two vodka and sodas, plus a small cup of wine, through the course of the evening.

She said she could drive home. The co-worker followed her, headed west on 90.

"I saw her brake lights come on," the co-worker said. "She swerved, and then I saw a body kind of stumble or roll off the corner of the vehicle."

"And then what?" Willhoite's attorney asked.

Carpenter drove off, the co-worker said. He stopped his truck in the middle of the road, turned on his flashers and told a second witness who stopped next to him to call 911.

Carpenter swerved, momentarily slowed, then drove away, the witnesses said.

Long Beach arrest

She was pulled over in Long Beach. She knew the police officer who arrested her, she said in pre-trial testimony. He had arrested her on a DUI charge in 2014, when she hired Gulfport attorney Wayne Woodall, who specializes in DUI defense. Carpenter was acquitted of the charge.

In Gulfport Municipal Court, Carpenter was found guilty early this week of leaving the scene of an accident, a misdemeanor. In Long Beach, she was found guilty later in the week of DUI and careless driving.

Woodall plans a vigorous defense when the cases are tried in County Court, where Carpenter has filed an appeal. He said the witnesses to the Gulfport accident offered conflicting accounts. In the Long Beach case, he contends, blood evidence was tainted because months passed before Carpenter's blood was tested.

Twice the legal limit

Carpenter admitted she refused the officer's request to walk a straight line. Her blood was drawn two hours after the accident at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport because officers had to wait for a subpoena.

She tested a little more than twice the legal limit at .171, evidence shows.

Willhoite's attorney, Kenneth Altman of Morris Bart Ltd. in Gulfport, said he could not discuss what happened because of the pending civil lawsuit and County Court appeal.

Woodall said he believes Carpenter will be acquitted on appeal. When she drove off in Gulfport, she said she had no idea she had hit someone.

"It has been very rough for her and it's a very concerning situation because it was a serious accident," Woodall said. "This is a woman of esteemed character who would never voluntarily or knowingly leave the scene of any accident."

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