Anyone else would have been treated differently. That’s the allegation coming from multiple people who witnessed a car accident in Wilmington.
The allegation is centered around a man, whose son is a New Hanover County Sheriff’s deputy and whose wife is a retired probation officer. Richard Luther was allowed to leave the scene of the accident he caused without ever taking a breathalyzer test.
WECT was recently contacted about the accident that happened along a busy stretch of Market Street in August.
According to a police report, Luther pulled out from a bar parking lot and into oncoming traffic. He crashed into a UNCW student, causing her to receive multiple injuries.
Bartender Ann Stevenson says she served Luther two drinks and a bag of chips the day of the crash, but she said she cut him off after that because he “seemed intoxicated.” She said Luther left for a bit, then came back. She still “refused to serve him” because he was stumbling and seemed impaired.
After refusing to serve him a second time, Stevenson said Luther left the bar, got into a car, drove away and immediately got into an accident.
A police report shows one of the responding officers, Wilmington Police Officer T.R. Spencer, wrote that a “witness on the scene…said that he smelled alcohol on [Luther]…. When I spoke to driver…about this, he confirmed that he had a ‘drink’ and a beer earlier.”
Officer Spencer declined to do a field sobriety test on Luther, “due to his legs being injured from the collision, however I was able to make a determination that he did not appear to be impaired.”
Luther was allowed to leave the scene of the accident with his wife, Pat, a retired probation officer.
Pictures taken by a witness show Luther being helped into her car by a New Hanover County Sheriff’s Deputy who stopped to assist right after the accident happened.
Two witnesses told WECT Luther fell over after being helped out of his car after the accident. They say a deputy helped him get up and then he continued to stumble. They say he appeared to be impaired. They also say a nurse who stopped to help before the ambulance arrived on scene stated Luther smelled of alcohol.
“I approached the cop and told him that he’d been drinking,” said Ron Naylor, a mechanic who works near the scene of the crash and witnessed the accident. “He said, ‘Sir, I’m just directing traffic.'”
Naylor and other witnesses said they were baffled the officer did not test Luther’s blood alcohol level.
“Especially coming out of a bar…even the nurse said he’d been drinking, she could smell it. But nobody wanted to listen,” Naylor recalled.
“Anyone else would have gotten a breathalyzer,” Stevenson said. Instead, Luther was allowed to leave with a citation for failure to yield the right of way.
The student injured in the crash, Michaella Dillon, is also shocked and angry.
She was taken to the hospital by ambulance for a broken thumb, which she had on her dominant hand, burns she received when the airbag deployed and a knee injury.
Dillon said she honked several times and swerved to avoid Luther, but he still pulled out, hit her and pushed her car into oncoming lanes of traffic along Market Street before her car landed in a ditch.
“He never came up to me and asked if I was ok,” she said. “He saw the blood on my arm, but he didn’t ask.”
Dillon said she had limited interaction with Luther after the crash. It wasn’t until later that she found out he’d been drinking before the accident.
“The fact that an officer didn’t even do a standardized breathalyzer test on him, is just beyond words,” Dillon said.
She was even angrier when she found out about Luther’s law enforcement connections. She claims he was given special treatment.
“It’s just completely unjust and unfair and I just feel victimized because I didn’t get justice,” she said.
Dillon said the way this case was handled creates a public safety issue because Luther is now back on the road with no significant penalty.
WECT has learned that Richard Luther has been arrested at least once before and charged with driving while impaired. Records show he was arrested in New Hanover County for that offense back in 2006.
Luther declined to talk about the August accident on camera, but he discussed it with us over the phone.
“There’s not really a story on that in my opinion,” Luther said, threatening legal action if we published this story. “I did not see her and I pulled out in front of her.”
Luther denied being drunk at the time of the accident. When we asked about the bartender’s claim that she refused to serve him because he appeared intoxicated, he replied, “That’s a damn lie. She never cut me off. I left.”
Luther also said he did not know the Wilmington Police officer at the scene.
It’s not clear what discussion, if any, transpired between the New Hanover County Sheriff’s deputy who stopped to help and WPD Officer Spencer.
Wilmington Police spokeswoman Linda Rawley said her office was not aware that there were any concerns about the way this case was handled until we contacted her last Wednesday. As of Monday, she said Dillon had not filed a formal complaint.
The WPD is looking into this matter, but Rawley said they were not yet prepared to comment. When asked about standard protocol for when a breathalyzer is administered, Rawley said there were no written guidelines but officers used their discretion determining when a breathalyzer was needed to test impairment.
Dillon has obtained an attorney, who is confident they will be able to settle out of court with Luther’s insurance company for her injuries.
They still have concerns, however, about the way this was handled. They decided to speak out because they think the public should be made aware even if Luther does not face additional criminal penalties.
“Police are going out of their way to seemingly protect one of their own, so-to-speak, is very bothersome. And something that just isn’t right,” Attorney Jim Johnson said. “It just seems odd to me that on the accident report, this man told the officer that he’d been drinking, but this officer made his own determination that he wasn’t impaired.”
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