MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Shelby County prosecutors will now consider a fourth prior DUI conviction of a Whitehaven licensed nurse awaiting a grand jury indictment on vehicular homicide.
The WMC Action News 5 Investigators found the additional DUI conviction for 56-year-old Linda Cartwright. Southaven (Mississippi) Municipal Court records and Southaven police sources confirmed Cartwright was found guilty of a DUI first offense misdemeanor and driving without insurance in Desoto County, Mississippi, in 2011. The records indicated she served a day in jail and paid nearly $700 in fines and court fees.
The Mississippi conviction was missing from Cartwright's record in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database when we first ran it June 17. That was the day after Memphis police say she drove her vehicle right into a Good Samaritan as he assisted a 31-year-old motorcyclist injured in a crash at Brooks Road and Coughlin Drive in Whitehaven. The crash killed the Good Samaritan, identified as 62-year-old Charles Butner of Kansas City, Missouri. According to her arrest affidavit, Cartwright told police she had been drinking at Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis, Arkansas, before the crash. Police charged Cartwright with DUI, aggravated vehicular homicide, public intoxication, leaving the scene of an accident involving death and reckless driving.
At the time, her record revealed three prior convictions for DUI, all first offenses, spanning 27 years: 1987, 1992 and 2014. The charges were each in Shelby County, and each was a first-offense because they were either missing from the NCIC and therefore unavailable to arresting officers, or they occurred beyond Tennessee's or Mississippi's 'look-back' statutes, which only allow prosecutors to consider a repeat offender's previous DUI convictions within the last 10 years (Tennessee) or five years (Mississippi).
"If there's nothing within that time frame, then I can't touch anything to enhance it to a multiple offender...make it a second, third, or fourth offense," said Shelby County Assistant District Attorney General Stephanie Johnson.
But Michael McCusker, the Shelby County assistant district attorney general who will prosecute Cartwright's case, said any defendant with more than two prior DUI convictions who has killed someone in a DUI-related crash is subject to the terms of aggravated vehicular homicide. McCusker explained under aggravated vehicular homicide, prosecutors may consider all four of Cartwright's prior DUI convictions -- including the Mississippi misdemeanor -- for enhanced penalties, regardless of any 'look-back' loopholes.
"And it increases the punishment (range) from eight to 30 years to 15 to 60 years," McCusker added.
Cartwright remains in the Shelby County jail under a $250,000 bond as a Shelby County grand jury decides whether to indict her on aggravated vehicular homicide. Phone calls to her brother Marlin Logue of East Arkansas have been unsuccessful.
Attempts to reach Butner's family in Missouri have also been unsuccessful. His ex-wife in Minnesota indicated he had been homeless and may have drifted to Memphis. A source on deep background said a niece claimed his body, but nobody else has come forward as a material or family witness.
"We want him to be remembered," said Kate Ritchie, program director for Tennessee Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). "We want him to be known, and we want him to know that his life had meaning, and this was 100 percent preventable."
The motorcyclist Butner was aiding, Joshua Craig of Olive Branch, Mississippi, is recovering from a broken leg and torn spleen, according to his wife Heather. Craig texted the WMC Action News 5 Investigators to say he's going through physical therapy.
Cartwright's first DUI in 1987, which was in Shelby County, got her 15 days in jail, but the judge suspended 13 days. Her second in 1992, also in Shelby County, cost her a $500 fine and 60 days in jail, but 15 days were suspended. Three years after her Mississippi DUI misdemeanor conviction in 2011, a judge sentenced her to a $415 fine and a year in jail for her 2014 DUI felony conviction in Shelby County. But the judge reduced her jail term to a year's probation, according to the case file.
The prospect of Cartwright's Mississippi conviction missing from the NCIC echoed the same circumstances that allowed a serial drunk-driver with five first-offense DUI convictions to drive drunk again and kill Briarcrest Christian School students Rachel Lynch and Maddie Kruse in a Marshall County, Mississippi, crash May 2015. A judge sentence the driver, Melandus Penson, to 60 years in prison. The crash inspired Tennessee legislators to mandate DUI case reporting to the NCIC and has spurred Congress to consider a federal law that would withhold federal criminal justice funds from states that do not mandate DUI reporting to the NCIC.