Answer me this: How could an individual who has pled guilty to at least four DUI charges and has another two pending against him while driving on a revoked license in West Virginia since 2004 (he would later obtain a valid driver’s license in Pennsylvania, only to have it suspended) not get put behind bars years ago?
I ask because the aforementioned individual allegedly contributed to the death of five others in a horrific accident – some say one of the worst they’ve seen in years – on a West Virginia interstate. That accident took the life of a longtime friend of mine and his 12-year-old son.
The total DUI count now shown on the record of one Brian J. Stone, 32, of Gans, Pa., stands at 11 (four convictions, seven pending), which includes five counts of driving under the influence causing death and one count of driving under the influence by a driver with three or more DUI offenses.
Here’s what happened. My friend, Courtney Evans, who I’ve known since I was 5 or 6 years old and played coach-pitched baseball and middle school and high school football with and was 31 years young, was traveling from his present home in Baltimore, Md. to our hometown in western West Virginia with his wife, Sheena, 29, their 3-year-old son, John, and Courtney’s 12-year-old son, Sawyer, when a pickup, driven by Stone, ran into Courtney’s sedan heading eastbound on I-68 near Morgantown, W.Va. The impact forced Courtney’s car across the median, where it slammed head-on into a westbound SUV with seven occupants. The vehicles then caught fire. Three people in the SUV died and the four others remain hospitalized. Courtney’s wife and youngest son survived, but also remain hospitalized.
And Stone, well, he claims he was rear-ended by another vehicle while on an entrance ramp of the interstate, causing him to lose control and slam into Courtney’s vehicle, according to published reports in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Stone was uninjured in the crash and was found in the woods near the accident scene with “slurred speech and attempting to run,” according to a KDKA-TV2/Pittsburgh video interview with Monongalia County Chief Deputy Al Kinser.
Stone was arrested on suspicion of DUI – his third time in four months – and is currently being held in West Virginia’s North Central Regional Jail on a total bond of $1.35 million. He has a hearing on Thursday on these charges.
The three killed in the SUV include driver, Donnell Perry, 52, and his daughters, Jentil Jones Perry, 15, and Jacquesha Jones Perry, 13. Perry’s wife, Marcia, his three other children, Justine, 18, Ayanna, 8, son Cory, 10, and a granddaughter, Mia Barnes, 1, were seriously injured.
Not only am I baffled about how Stone could obtain a valid driver’s license, but so are authorities from both Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
According to an article in the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail, officials say under the terms of a multi-state compact, Stone would have been ineligible for a driver’s license in Pennsylvania if he got it after his West Virginia license was revoked. If he got it before his West Virginia license, West Virginia officials should have been notified of his Pennsylvania license.
This costly breakdown of communication will likely result in the legislation in both states getting raked over the coals in a backlash from the communities wanting stricter laws for DUI offenders. And rightly so.
Stone has a DUI driving record the length of my arm. In 2002, 2004 and 2005, he was convicted of drunken driving in West Virginia. He was facing another drunken driving charge from April in Pennsylvania, according to the Post-Gazette, which suspended his current Pennsylvania license, which never should have been issued in the first place.
Steve Dale, a representative of the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles, said state officials think it’s possible Stone got his Pennsylvania driver’s license before his West Virginia license was revoked. That would mean Stone had two valid licenses for the last three years, since his West Virginia license was revoked in 2004.
Dale went on to say if that’s the case, the West Virginia’s Division of Motor Vehicles should have been notified that he had a Pennsylvania license when he applied for his West Virginia license.
“We have no record that Pennsylvania ever notified us that he ever got a license in Pennsylvania,” Dale said in an interview with the Post-Gazette.
West Virginia and Pennsylvania both abide by the Driver’s License Compact, which requires states to share information on applicants for driver’s licenses. Under the terms of the compact, states also notify each other if the holder of a valid driver’s license in one state applies for a license in another state.
“Theoretically, they shouldn’t be able to get a license without us being notified, but we hear that it happens,” Dale said.
Also, according to the Post-Gazette, Stone had been arrested at least seven times on suspicion of drunken driving – five in West Virginia and two in Pennsylvania – in the past five years.
Danielle Klinger, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said she couldn’t comment specifically on the Stone situation, citing privacy concerns, according to a published report. However, she said that all drivers’ license applicants in Pennsylvania have to turn over any other valid license they may have as part of the application process.
So, in the end, the indirect result of this license snafu is that five people are dead, including a dear friend of mine, and his son, who looked exactly like his daddy. And what’s left are two families – make that three, since Sawyer’s mother, Cyndi, also a childhood friend of mine, wasn’t married to Courtney – torn apart.
As you read this I am on a plane to West Virginia to bury my friend and his son, two funerals that could have easily been prevented.