Judge sentences wrong-way driver to prison
By MIKE CORN
By MIKE CORN
Punishment doled out in driving-under-the-influence cases can serve many purposes, District Judge Ed Bouker said Wednesday after listening to nearly two hours of testimony in Ellis County District Court.
Among its other purposes, he also sees punishment as a warning to the public about the consequences of drinking and driving -- something he faces nearly every day as a judge
"It holds the most potential for hurting and killing people every day," he said.
Bouker then proceeded to sentence 19-year-old Cameron Wade Williams, Great Bend, to 41 months in prison on a single felony count of involuntary manslaughter, a charge filed in the wake of a Sept. 13 wrong-way accident that killed 37-year-old Douglas R. Feldt, Ellis.
Feldt was westbound just before midnight on Interstate 70 when he was struck by a pickup driving east in the westbound lane. Williams, with a blood-alcohol reading of 0.16 -- twice the legal limit -- was at the wheel of the pickup. He also was injured and airlifted to a Wichita hospital.
Bouker already had limited -- by nearly two years -- the amount of time Williams could have served in prison, finding his criminal history should have been lower than reported.
Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees objected to the request to reduce the sentence and pointed out Williams just three weeks earlier already had faced a DUI charge -- with a blood-alcohol content of 0.173 -- in municipal court. He also had been arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and a minor in possession in April 2013. He entered into diversion agreements in both cases.
Williams and his defense attorney, Robert D. "Rocky" Wiechman, Wichita, both made impassioned pleas to Bouker and Feldt's family as part of a request for either probation or a shortened prison sentence in the case.
His voice breaking with emotion, Williams struggled to speak as he apologized to Feldt's family.
Bouker wasn't swayed, imposing the recommended prison sentence.
Feldt's family, including his ex-wife, already had urged Bouker to impose the prison sentence.
Despite four witnesses asking Bouker to impose a prison sentence, Wiechman sought to use the words from Feldt's own 9-year-old son to argue for probation or a shorter sentence.
During her testimony, Becky Windholz said she asked her son if he wanted to write a letter to Williams concerning the accident.
"He said, 'No, Mom. I don't want to make his life any worse than it already is,' " she said of his response.
"The one family member you need to pay attention to is the son," Wiechman said, repeating the testimony. "That's a powerful statement. It sounds like he has forgiven Cameron."
Windholz said she went along with her ex-husband's family in urging prison for Williams.
Similar sentiment came from Feldt's brother, sister and wife.
During his testimony, Roy Feldt urged Bouker to impose the 41-month prison sentence.
"I think that's appropriate," he said.
Roy Feldt also took issue with the delivery of an apology letter from Williams.
"We as a family never got that letter," he said, saying it came through the court instead.
Wiechman quickly sought to say the letter was delivered that way to avoid direct contact with the victim's family.
Immediately following the hearing, Williams exchanged brief hugs with family members and then was taken into custody by sheriff's deputies.