Todd and Vicki Abington’s only son, Phillip, was just 16 when he was killed on Greenwell Springs Road in 2011 by a speeding and intoxicated driver who also had driven drunk in 2003.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving says car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers, and about one-third of those crashes are alcohol-related.
One in three people will be involved in an alcohol-related crash in their lifetime; an average drunk driver has driven drunk 80 times before his first arrest; and half of all convicted drunk drivers will be arrested again for driving while intoxicated, according to MADD.
Todd Abington cited some of those sobering statistics to state District Judge Richard Anderson in East Baton Rouge Parish last month at the sentencing of James “Trey” Watts III, 32, of Denham Springs.
Watts was convicted in March of vehicular homicide in the killing of Phillip Abington, of Greenwell Springs.
Abington, an 11th-grader, was turning onto Greenwell Springs Road from Will Avenue in Central on Sept. 9, 2011, when his 2001 Honda Civic was struck by Watts’ 2005 Chevrolet Silverado. Abington was pronounced dead at the scene.
Testimony at Watts’ trial at the 19th Judicial District Courthouse revealed Watts’ pickup was traveling 95 mph two seconds before the crash in rush-hour traffic. The posted speed limit is 45 mph on that stretch of Greenwell Springs Road.
An analysis of blood taken from Watts two hours after the crash indicated a blood-alcohol level of 0.09 percent. A blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent is considered presumptive evidence of drunken driving in Louisiana for those 21 and over.
Anderson pointed out at Watts’ sentencing that Watts had a prior DWI conviction stemming from a 2003 arrest.
And, while Watts was awaiting trial in the Abington case, the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office formally charged him last June with hit-and-run driving and criminal mischief stemming from a February 2012 incident. He pleaded no contest in January and was put on probation for a year.
“He’s been given chance after chance after chance,” Vicki Abington told Anderson at Watts’ sentencing.
“None of us are here by our own choice. We’re here because of James Watts’ choice” to drink and drive, Todd Abington said to the judge.
He reminded Anderson that as Watts was taken into custody after his March 14 conviction, Watts turned to his own family in the courtroom and implored them to take care of his young son.
“We know that no matter what we do, nothing will bring Phillip back,” Todd Abington told the judge.
Abington acknowledged he was unable to protect his son from Watts, but said he feels safer for himself and the rest of his family — and has experienced a measure of “peace” — with Watts behind bars.
Anderson sentenced Watts to six years in prison, to be followed by three years of active supervised probation, including the use of an ignition interlock device, a condition Todd Abington advocated. Drivers must blow into the device to start their vehicles. If alcohol is detected, the vehicle will not start.
Phillip Abington was set to make his Theatre Baton Rouge debut the night of Sept. 9, 2011, as one of the cowboys in the musical “Crazy for You.” That night’s opening show had already started but was cut short and canceled when theater officials learned of his death.
Joe Gyan Jr. covers courts for The Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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