A blood test on New Bern Mayor Lee Bettis came back from the state this week and shows no trace of alcohol in his system when he was charged with DWI in May while driving through Havelock.
According to the N.C. State Crime Laboratory blood test, Bettis’ blood did test positive for Benzodiazepines, a psychoactive drug commonly used in treating anxiety, insomnia and seizures.
Mark Chesnutt, Bettis’ attorney, said the blood test was no surprise.
“That was the thing we knew would be positive,” he said of the Benzodiazepines. “But it was not a quantitative analysis.”
Chesnutt said Bettis’ response was “I told you.”
Bettis told him he took a pill the night before to go to bed and that the pill did not affect him physically or mentally, Chesnutt said.
The doctors Chesnutt talked to said a drug used for pain or sleep could show up in someone’s system for several days, but there should be no effects the next morning.
The Havelock officer who stopped Bettis asked him to perform heel-to-toe and balance sobriety tests. Bettis said in May that 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.
On May 6, Bettis was stopped by Havelock police who received a couple of 911 calls from motorists concerned about his driving. One motorist followed Bettis from N.C. 101 onto U.S. 70, through town and past the Havelock Walmart, reporting to police that the van that Bettis was driving was “everywhere” on the road and had crossed the white lines on West Main Street and U.S. 70 “100 times.”
Based on the manner that Bettis was observed operating the vehicle and after conducting several field sobriety tests, police arrested him for DWI. He also was charged with failure to maintain lane control and failure to obey highway markings.
Bettis consented to a blood test, which was 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.
“I’m surprised,” Chesnutt said. “With just a field test and no quantitative testing they could even charge me. It does not help you to be a public figure and get arrested on something that has no affect on you.”
Chesnutt said he was also surprised the state had hired special counsel to try the case at taxpayers’ expense.
Scott Thomas, district attorney, said the special prosecutor assigned to the case by the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts is Isaac T. Avery III, of Raleigh.
Thomas made the request May 9 and it was granted on the same day.
“This type of request is routinely granted where a district attorney believes there is a potential conflict in prosecuting a particular individual,” Thomas said in a press release Wednesday. “My office has a potential conflict in prosecuting the case due to the fact that Mr. Bettis is a criminal defense attorney in this district who regularly handles cases in the criminal courts of this district, both retained and appointed. He has frequent interaction with me and members of my staff in his professional capacity as an attorney representing his clients. It appears this case will be contested and will most likely result in a trial.”
Avery was out of his office this week and could not be reached.
Bettis’ court date is July 18 in the Havelock courtroom of Craven District Court.