Blind World Magazine

Drunk Driver to face lawsuit after prison.




News & Observer, North Carolina.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006.




HILLSBOROUGH - After Stephen White Coffee serves four months in prison for the drunken-driving hit and run that injured a blind woman and killed her guide dog, he and the bar he worked at will face a civil lawsuit.


Coffee pleaded guilty last month to a drunken-driving accident that happened at 9 a.m. Oct. 5 in which he struck Danielle Iredale and her dog, Inka, as they waited for a bus to take them to Iredale's medical appointment.


Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson sentenced Coffee, 28, to four months in prison and two years probation after he pleaded guilty to felony hit and run, driving while impaired, and drinking a malt beverage after hours at He's Not Here, a bar on Franklin Street where he worked before the accident. Coffee could have faced as long as one year and nine months in prison, a prosecutor said when he pleaded. "I don't remember everything that happened that night," Coffee said during Tuesday's hearing, "But I do know that poor decisions made by myself caused this to happen."


Immediately after the hearing, Iredale filed a civil lawsuit against Coffee, He's Not Here and two others affiliated with He's Not Here, claiming Coffee should have known not to drive drunk, and saying the other parties gave Coffee alcohol even though they knew he was drunk and likely to drive home.


On Oct. 4 and 5, Coffee was working at He's Not Here, and drank during and after work, according to the lawsuit.


Before 9 a.m. Oct. 5, Coffee got into the Nissan Altima he drove and headed to his apartment off BPW Club Road in Carrboro. But he swerved left as he drove, crossing the center line and jumping the curb.


Sighted people jumped out of the way, but the car hit Iredale and Inka, dragging the dog about 50 feet.


But Coffee kept driving, parking in front of his apartment.


Police found him in bed, his car still warm, fur stuck in the car's front side and pieces of Iredale's skin in the fender.


His blood alcohol level measured 0.16, twice the legal threshold for impairment.


Reading from notes on a Braille word processor-type machine in court Tuesday, Iredale said one of the hardest things for her to live with was not being able to comfort Inka as she died.


"She died in her harness, in the dirt, by the side of the road," Iredale said. "She deserved a long life and a peaceful, painless death, and she got neither."


Iredale, who goes by the name "Aoife" (pronounced Eefah), said the accident left her with numerous physical injuries, short-term memory loss, dizziness and psychological trauma.


She lost a job she had secured just two days before the accident, and hasn't been able to work or study since, she said, adding she continues to suffer panic attacks in public places and when she's around traffic.


"I can't trust my surroundings any longer," she said.


After her statement, she read a poem she wrote about losing Inka.


Flurry, Iredale's new guide dog, grumbled and yelped at her feet during much of the hearing, including when the Coffee asked Hudson for leniency.


Coffee's prior criminal record included several other alcohol-related misdemeanor charges.


Since the accident, Coffee has found work at a pizza shop and for Rainbow soccer, and has volunteered locally, said his lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Sherri Murrell. But he also has received hate mail and other negative attention, she said.


"I prayed every night for many months after this happened, just hoping that she could get some type of normal life back," Coffee said. "I continue to do that."


Staff writer Jessica Rocha can be reached at 932-2008 or jessica.rocha@newsobserver.com.



http://www.newsobserver.com/102/story/482963.html




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