After five years, DWI case stalled again
It was around 3 a.m. on Oct. 4, 2008, when Barbara Zimmerman was startled awake by what sounded like a loud explosion and her home shaking.
Her husband, Chuck, had just gone to bed after waking up for a snack.
“We thought a bomb had gone off,” she said.
A small SUV had spun out of control, hit the large plum tree in their yard and collided with the front porch of their brick home.
They could see the mangled metal, smoke pouring from the car, and two people escaping from the vehicle.
The driver, later identified as then 25-year-old Daniel Eugene Dotson, stumbled from the car and could barely walk around their yard, Barbara Zimmerman said.
His girlfriend, who was a passenger, ran from the vehicle toward her house nearby.
Meanwhile, 9-1-1 operators told the Zimmermans to leave their house immediately because of the danger that the car might catch fire.
It wasn’t long before Waynesville Police Officer Tim O’Neil arrested Dotson, who was charged with driving while impaired.
It’s now been more than five years since the night a drunk driver literally shook the foundation of the Zimmerman’s home, and he has yet to see his day in court for the charge.
There have been a number of court dates, several failures to appear and continuances and he’s also served time for charges outside Haywood County since then. But for the Zimmermans, the wait has been excruciating.
The couple has closely followed each of Dotson’s court dates, awaiting the day they will finally see justice.
They thought that day had come during a January session of district court, when Dotson was scheduled to begin a juried trial. But his case was continued again because the state lab analyst who performed the blood alcohol test was not available to appear in court.
The case was rescheduled for Tuesday, but when Dotson failed to appear in court again, District Court Judge Donna Forga told law enforcement to search for him and issued a $100,000 secured bond upon his arrest.
Dotson has been convicted of a number of crimes, beginning with a DWI in Henderson County in 2005, according to records at the N.C. Department of Public Safety. He was placed under probation for that charge, but was later convicted for another DWI in Buncombe County in 2010 and served about two months in jail.
In January 2011, Dotson was convicted of habitual impaired driving in Madison County and served one year and six months jail time.
He also recently appeared in Buncombe County court for several charges including driving while impaired, several misdemeanor probation violations, driving with a revoked license and a number of other traffic violations.
Barbara Zimmerman said she was not surprised when Dotson did not show up to court yesterday.
“I’m not shocked he’s not here because he’s pulled this so many times before,” she said. “Now we start the whole thing over again. How many more hearings will he he have before another trial date is set? It really is frustrating.”
To this day, the Zimmermans said they still find pieces of the car in their yard.
Although they have repaired their porch, there is still more work to be done on the house. A contractor recently told the couple that an entire basement wall needs to be replaced.
The couple sued him in 2009 and Dotson was ordered to pay $17,000 in compensatory damages and $25,000 in punitive damages.
“We haven’t seen a penny. Not one penny,” Barbara Zimmerman said.
Ellen Pitt, MADD representative for Western North Carolina, said it’s astonishing the case has gone on for this long.
“I’ve been doing this for 10 years and it’s still hard for me to believe that our tax dollars fund this whole pompous, ridiculous circus,” Pitt said. “The rights of crime victims disappear completely.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, law enforcement were still attempting to find and arrest Dotson.
"It's just like a ferris wheel," Barbara Zimmerman said. "It just keeps going round and round."