PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) – Missteps by law enforcement seemingly hampered prosecutors’ chances of proving a Holly Ridge man may have been impaired when he hit and killed a Marine who was jogging along a Pender County road in June.
William Keith Genens, 58, pleaded guilty in Pender County Superior Court to charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless driving in connection with the death of 1st Lt. Justice Regine Stewart of Camp Lejeune, the District Attorney’s Office announced in a news release on Wednesday.
Prosecutors say Stewart was jogging along N.C. 50 in Pender County on June 27, when Genens, who was driving a Ford F-150, fatally struck her.
Nearby homeowners who heard the collision came outside to speak to Genens, who had pulled over after the crash and was attempting to wave down a passing driver.
The homeowners told Genens that he should call 911, but he refused and instead called his adult children to get assistance for himself, prosecutors said. Bystanders attempted life-saving measures on Stewart but were unsuccessful.
In the Wednesday news release, the District Attorney’s Office said the investigation into the fatal crash “failed to develop sufficient evidence to meet the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Genens was impaired” and that involuntary manslaughter was the highest charge that could be pursued under the law.
On Friday, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office responded to WECT’s request to clarify the issues that arose during the investigation.
“First, Genens’ participation in the field sobriety test was limited due to underlying health issues,” said Samantha Dooies, assistant to the District Attorney. She added, “the administration of the roadside portable breath test (PBT) that followed was done improperly.”
According to Dooies, Genens also refused to consent to a blood draw with paramedics roadside, so he was taken from the crash site on the eastern side of Pender County to Burgaw.
There, a breath test was conducted and revealed a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.03 — the legal limit in North Carolina is 0.08.
“A subsequent blood sample obtained by officers was not done in accordance with the protections of his Fourth Amendment rights, placing its admissibility in doubt. As a result, neither the blood draw nor the roadside breath test would have been admissible in court and we did not have sufficient proof of impairment,” Dooies explained.
As a result, Genens was given no prison time and was ordered to serve 120 days in jail — 60 of which he was supposed to serve immediately with the other 60 to be served beginning in December, Stewart’s birthday month.
The sentence angered Stewart’s family who spoke with WECT on Thursday.
“They [trooper and Stewart’s roommate] told us what happened. She was out running. While she was running she was hit and struck by a drunk driver that just left the bar,” said Tia Jones, Stewart’s mother.
“In court I relived it. When I heard the sentencing — I felt like I was back at my day one. Our daughter is the one, who is named Justice, is not having justice right now,” she said.
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