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Mother anguished over proposed 30-day sentence for man who killed her son in DWI crash

Darren Lee Marshall was killed on March 3, 2023 in a crash on Pineville-Matthews Road near Providence High School.
Courtney of Britta Marshall
Darren Lee Marshall was killed on March 3, 2023, in a crash on Pineville-Matthews Road near Providence High School.

Two and a half years ago, Britta Marshall moved to Charlotte after going through a divorce. She became roommates with her eldest son, Darren Lee Marshall Jr., whom she called D.J.

“He just had a big heart. He had a good heart,” Britta Marshall said. “And he always tried to make sure people were OK.”

D.J. Marshall, a NASCAR fan, worked as a maintenance technician at an apartment complex. When Britta moved in with him, she laughed that he quickly “laid down the law.”

“He’s like, ‘Stay out of my room,’ ” Britta said. “He’s like, we’re going to be roommates.”

She then added she appreciated that time, and that she was “lucky that I got to see the young man that he became.”

On March 3 of last year, police say Roy James Jackson, 71, was making a left turn when he drove his Jeep into the path of D.J., who was on his motorcycle. D.J. was killed. The crash happened at 5:14 p.m., when it was still daylight, on Pineville-Matthews Road near Providence High School.

The police report said Jackson was swaying, had red, glassy eyes and admitted to drinking.

When his blood was drawn more than three hours later, his blood alcohol level was .10, which is above the legal limit of .08.

He was charged with felony death by motor vehicle.

Britta said her anguish has been compounded by the Mecklenburg district attorney’s proposed sentence for the man charged in her son’s death: 30 days in jail, plus two years probation.

Jackson is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday morning.

“That is mind-blowing to me,” Britta said about the likely plea deal. “How can anyone say that is anything close to reasonable?”

Jackson’s attorney, George Laughrun, declined to comment about the case. The District Attorney’s Office told WFAE it’s prohibited from talking about the case while it’s pending.

30-day sentence

In December, Britta recorded a Zoom meeting with Mecklenburg prosecutor Monica Noble, who spoke with her for more than an hour about the case.

Noble noted that front and back cameras in Jackson’s car showed he didn’t get out of his Jeep to check on D.J. after the crash.

“He did not exit,” Noble said during the Zoom meeting. “It’s difficult to see that in the best of circumstances. If something happened like that (to us), you or I would be beside ourselves to make sure that person was OK.”

But despite him not getting out of his car, Noble then told Britta trying the case was going to be difficult.

Those same cameras didn’t show signs of impaired driving before the crash.

To prosecute felony death by motor vehicle cases in North Carolina, prosecutors must not only show the driver was impaired, but that the impairment was a proximate cause of the death.

Noble said she was worried that would mean a single juror might decide to acquit.

“And if they look at the video, and just one person — just one — and says, ‘You know, I don’t think he’s impaired despite the (blood alcohol level of .10.),” Noble said. “I have tried countless DWI trials to juries. It’s an odd type of law for them. It adds wrinkles.”

She also said she’s worried that a Mecklenburg judge might sentence Jackson to only probation since he has no prior drunk driving offenses.

The prosecutor then told Britta the district attorney’s offer.

She said he would spend a month in the Mecklenburg County Jail and also have probation.

Britta erupted in rage, saying, “Oh my god! Oh my god! That’s what my son is worth?”

She said she believes Jackson will be allowed to plead guilty to a lower charge, involuntary manslaughter, which is a Class F felony. That’s less severe than felony death by motor vehicle, which is a Class D.

Sentencing guidelines for felony death by motor vehicle call for roughly at least 38 months in prison for people with no prior convictions, though judges are allowed to impose lower sentences.

Guidelines for involuntary manslaughter call for roughly 10 months.

Marshall said she was hoping for at least six months.

“All (people) see when they turn on the TV or read the paper is somebody else got killed by drinking and driving,” she said. “And the numbers are just escalating and there’s nothing being done about it.”

Rising DWI fatalities, falling arrests

In 2022, the year before D.J. was killed, 58 people died in Mecklenburg County as a result of alcohol-related vehicle crashes. That’s the highest number of deaths in 20 years, according to North Carolina Department of Transportation data.

A decade ago, there were about 30 deaths from alcohol-related crashes a year.

In 2015, about 2,000 people were convicted of driving while impaired (DWI) in Mecklenburg. That number began steadily declining, bottoming out to only a few hundred convictions during the pandemic.

One reason is that Charlotte police were making fewer DWI arrests.

The DA’s office has said it’s short-staffed and struggling to prosecute crimes like homicide. In addition, Mecklenburg courts were closed longer than anywhere in the state else during the pandemic.

Last year, 962 people were convicted of DWI in Mecklenburg — a large increase over 2022. But that’s still the lowest per-capita rate of the state’s largest counties and half the number just seven years ago.

Britta moved to New Jersey after D.J.’s death. She flew back to Charlotte to hold a vigil Wednesday afternoon for her son, ahead of Jackson’s arraignment on Thursday.

The prospect of Jackson spending 30 days in jail is “mind-blowing to me. How can anyone say that is anything close to reasonable?”

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.