New Bern’s mayor said he was tired and not drunk after his arrest for driving while impaired Monday morning in Havelock.
Lee Bettis, 48, was arrested and charged with driving while impaired, failure to maintain lane control and failure to obey highway markings, according to a release from the Havelock Police Department.
Bettis was stopped by Havelock police around 7:43 a.m. after two motorists called 911 to report that a Chevrolet van was driving erratically on N.C. 101, according to the release. Police officers were able to observe the van and pulled Bettis over on U.S. 70 near the entrance to the Tucker Creek subdivision. Bettis had two children in the van with him.
Based on the manner that Bettis was observed operating the vehicle and after conducting field sobriety tests, police found cause to arrest him for DWI, according to the release.
Bettis reportedly consented to a blood test, which will be analyzed by the SBI for alcohol and any other controlled substance. Bettis registered 0.00 percent on the Breathalyzer, which measures blood alcohol level.
He was taken before a magistrate, who found probable cause to issue a warrant for DWI, and then was released. His court date is set for July 18.
Colleen Roberts, New Bern’s public information officer, released a statement that said Bettis was not on any official New Bern city business at the time of his arrest.
Bettis, contacted Monday afternoon, said the Havelock officer told him he was arrested because he was unable to complete a field sobriety test and because he was “acting funny.”
Bettis and his family were staying at a rental house in Morehead City and spent the weekend moving furniture and preparing for closing on a house they are purchasing in New Bern. Bettis said he woke up about 7 a.m. Monday, an hour late. He said he offered to drive their two children to school in New Bern when his wife said she was too tired.
Bettis said that after rushing to get ready, his wife said he also looked too tired to drive and suggested that her father, who was staying with them, drive the children to school.
Bettis, who is a practicing attorney, said he had to get to work anyway and insisted on driving.
Bettis said he swerved off the highway one time near Havelock and was stopped a short time later by a Havelock police officer.
The officer asked Bettis to perform heel-to-toe and balance sobriety tests. Bettis said he advised the officer that he was unable to keep his balance because of hip replacement surgery he underwent in November. An ambulance arrived, and a breath test came back negative for alcohol.
He was placed under arrest for failing to complete the field sobriety tests and because of his behavior.
“If you know me, you know I’m always acting funny,” Bettis said Monday afternoon at his law office. “I was too tired to drive this morning. I should have let her (his wife’s) dad drive the kids.”
Bettis said he expects his blood test also will come back clean, and that he will be able to enter a prayer for judgment on the remaining traffic charges, but in the meantime he will be dealing with the repercussions of a DWI arrest.
Alderman Sabrina Bengel, New Bern mayor pro-tem, said City Manager Mike Epperson sent an email to each of the aldermen Monday morning saying: “Lee was involved in a possible arrest in Havelock,” but there were no details.
“It’s hard to comment on until we get more information,” Bengel said. “He will have his day in court like any other citizen. He will have to go through the process, like any U.S. citizen.”
According to a 911 call released by the city, one of the callers mentions the van is in front of her.
“I mean, this guy almost hit six people,” the caller says. “He is everywhere.”
The caller mentions she is staying well behind the car and watches as it runs off the road.
“Ohhhh,” the caller says.
“What happened? Did he run off,” the Havelock police dispatcher asks.
“He’s back on again,” the caller replies.
The caller believes there is just the driver in the van but then sees the children.
“There’s kids in there? No way,” she says.
The 911 call lasts about 10 minutes as the caller follows the van from N.C. 101 to West Main Street and then to U.S. 70 West as the van heads out of the city. The dispatcher mentions that one Havelock officer was on another call and others were attempting to get to the van but were tied up in traffic.
The dispatcher asks the caller to flash the lights in her vehicle when she sees a Havelock police car.
“We need to get this guy off the road, sounds like,” the dispatcher tells the caller.
At one point, the caller indicates the van may have stopped at a green light on West Main Street.
“Hello, wake up,” the caller says.
“Is he going?” the dispatcher says.
“Yeah, now he’s moving,” the caller replies.
“Oh my gosh,” the dispatcher says.
At one point, the dispatcher asks the caller what was happening.
“They’re just playing ping-pong between the lanes,” the caller replies. “I mean, they’ve crossed the line, 100 times.”
The dispatcher then contacts Craven County dispatchers to inform them the van was nearing the end of Havelock’s jurisdiction and that the N.C. Highway Patrol may be needed to stop the van, and then the call ends.