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Man gets 5-16 years for 13th DUI arrest

Nov. 05, 2012 @ 11:15 PM

HUNTINGTON -- John David Caldwell sidestepped a possible life sentence Monday when the self-described alcoholic pleaded guilty to charges associated with his 13th drunken driving arrest since September 1982.

Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred Ferguson met the confession with a 5- to 16-year prison sentence. He also ordered that Caldwell be provided in-prison, alcohol treatment.

Caldwell, 49, entered guilty pleas to third-offense driving under the influence, third-offense driving on a suspended/revoked license for DUI and fleeing while DUI, all felonies.

Those allegations stemmed from March 8 incident in which Caldwell tried to outrun police in Proctorville, Ohio. Court documents show authorities eventually stopped his vehicle in Huntington and arrested him with an alleged blood-alcohol content of 0.169 -- more than twice the legal limit of 0.08.

Monday's guilty plea and sentencing means Caldwell now has at least seven felony convictions for third-offense driving under the influence, the state's toughest drunken-driving law. Each felony led to a year or more behind bars.

That record of convictions made Caldwell eligible for a life sentence, but the prosecution did not pursue that route in exchange for the defendant agreeing to plead guilty and waive his right to grand jury consideration of the fleeing charge. It was added to the initial, two-count indictment.

Caldwell -- whose driver's license has 13 alcohol-related revocations, all unresolved, dating back 1982 -- apologized to the court Monday and vowed to transform his life.

"I wasn't raised for this," he told the court. "I wasn't raised to spend my life in jail. I'm a good man."

Ferguson did not openly accept Caldwell's optimism. The judge scoffed at the defense's request for a shorter sentence as he flipped through Caldwell's criminal record. Its pages include mug shots from decades ago, a 1988 court order when Ferguson placed Caldwell on probation and two letters written in 1980 and 1991.

The judge suggested Caldwell had likely voiced similar promises in years past, only to allow circumstances to overcome any desire for recovery.

"I know you mean what you say today," Ferguson said. "Now when you get out of prison, where you go, that's only a choice you can make."

Assistant Prosecutor Sean Hammers accepted Caldwell's willingness for treatment. It was one factor in his decision not to pursue a life sentence. Other factors were Caldwell's age, his willingness to take responsibility by pleading guilty and the cost to taxpayers for incarcerating him on such a charge.

"I'm confident that when he comes out of prison, after 8 years, that he's not going to reoffend," Hammers said. "I wouldn't have agreed to the plea deal if I thought, when he comes out in 8 years versus 15 (years on a life sentence), that he's going to be a danger to the community. I mean I live here too, as do my children, so obviously this not something that I took lightly."

Caldwell has been incarcerated since May 22. He must serve five years behind bars before he gains parole eligibility, Hammers said. He could discharge the punishment in eight years with good behavior.

Hammers said he would oppose parole and indicated Caldwell's prior record would hurt any such eligibility. The prosecutor added that Caldwell's performance during in-prison, alcohol rehabilitation would impact any release. It will be his first time participating with any such program.

Caldwell explained his March 8 incident by saying he had a few beers and two shots of whiskey, all while having spent the day working on his son's truck at a friend's house in Ohio. He recalled not allowing his son to drive home because he also had a couple beers.

"I really don't know my logical thinking," he told Ferguson. "It wasn't logical."

During a jailhouse interview in July with The Herald-Dispatch, Caldwell mentioned a desire for treatment saying, "I guess I realize it's time to grow up."

William Webb, a master addictions counselor and recovering alcoholic in Barboursville, listened to portions of that interview and said Caldwell's case resembles that of a severe alcoholic who neither understands nor appreciates the magnitude of his addiction. He said, at the time, nobody is beyond hope and that repeat drunken drivers deserve prison time, but Caldwell's case underscored the need for a cultural shift in fighting addiction.