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Mayor Bettis appears in court on DWI and other charges

By WCTI Staff
Published On: May 06 2013 10:52:15 AM CDT
Updated On: Jul 18 2013 10:36:47 AM CDT
CRAVEN COUNTY -

New Bern Mayor Lee Bettis appeared in court Thursday morning on DWI and other charges for allegedly driving erratically with children in his vehicle.

In district court at the Havelock City Hall, the judge decided to continue to the case to October 3.

According to a North Carolina State Crime Lab report, Alprazolam, better known as the anxiety drug Xanax, was in Bettis' system when he allegedly drove erratically on Highway 70 at the western end of Havelock on May 6. His wife's two children were in the vehicle, investigators said.

The incident led to DWI and other charges against the mayor.

The State Crime Lab report does not indicate how much Xanax was in Bettis' system. But the report does show that no alcohol, cocaine, opiates, barbiturates, methadone or Carisoprodol were present in the mayor's blood.

Bettis' lawyer, Marcus Chesnutt, said his client had a prescription for Xanax. Chesnutt then offered his reactions to the lab results.

"I'm a little bothered that this test doesn’t have quantitative results with it. It shows something that is absolutely legal for somebody to have in their system. It doesn't show an amount that would impair him at all," Chesnutt said. "I'm a little bothered by the rush to judgement, the fact that he was charged without any kind of quantitative result coming back."

According to District Attorney Scott Thomas, another new development in the case is the appointment of a special prosecutor: Isaac Avery, of Raleigh. NewsChannel 12 could not reach Avery; a message on his office phone said he was on vacation.

Havelock Police said they were first notified of Bettis' erratic driving when a motorist called 911:

CALLER: "I mean, this guy almost hit about six people. He is everywhere... I'm just behind him, about 100 feet... It looks like a single occupant male. There's kids in there, no way. Oh man, there are kids in there."

DISPATCH: "Do you see a cruiser around you? If you see one, start flashing your lights, because we need to get this guy off the road."

CALLER: "Oh, don't hit the- ohhh. He's playing ping-pong in between the lanes [on] westbound 70... I mean, they popped the line a hundred times."

(CLICK HERE to listen to the entire 911 call)

Bettis said he was just trying to get his kids to school when he was pulled over. He admitted he was probably speeding, and explained why he failed the field sobriety test.

"The police officer said, 'you can't do a heel-to-toe walk and you're acting kind of funny,'" Bettis said. "I just had hip transplant surgery; I don't have any balance. I can't do a heel toe walk. After the breathalyzer came back zero-zero, I pretty much thought that was it."

Two days after Bettis was pulled over in Havelock, his wife called 911, claiming he assaulted her.

According to Major Jason Wank of the Carteret County Sheriff's Office, Nicole Bettis dialed 911 at about 2:10 a.m. on May 8 from the couple's rental home on Gastey Lane in Beaufort. Nicole claimed her husband had grabbed her because he was angry over his DWI arrest two days prior.

Officials released the 911 call to NewsChannel 12:

NICOLE: "My husband just left. He just abused me. He pushed me down the stairs and choked me and he took off."

911 DISPATCH: "When did this happen?"

NICOLE: "Within the last 15 minutes, 20 minutes... I'm fine. He's angry because he got pulled over the other morning while driving my children to school and I didn't support him on this, because I told him not to drive my children to school."

911 DISPATCH: "And you said he pushed you down?"

NICOLE: He pushed me down the stairs.

(CLICK HERE to listen to the entire 911 call)

When deputies arrived at the home, they did not find signs of injuries, Wank said. Nicole decided not to file charges and Bettis was not arrested.

At a news conference in response to the alleged domestic dispute, Bettis' father-in-law, Bill McClure, defended his son-in law.

"My wife and I have been with him since this past Sunday and know that Lee did not injure or harm our daughter of grandchildren," McClure said. "We know he will continue working hard to provide a safe and nurturing home for them. We, the family, at this time, are asking for your prayers and to respect our privacy, and to allow us, as a family, a time for healing."'

The DWI arrest and the alleged domestic assault prompted Bettis' business manager, Susan Namowicz, to announce that the New Bern mayor would be taking two-month leave of absence "to take care of his family."

But Bettis later notified City Manager Mike Epperson that he decided not to take his leave. Instead, he would not attend city meetings for about 6 weeks.

Two New Bern aldermen, Victor Taylor and Dana Outlaw, then requested a special meeting to discuss the Bettis controversy. Outlaw also called for the mayor to step down permanently.

"My judgment is, he needs to resign. That's my judgment call. You know, I just can't sit around and do nothing. I mean the leadership of the city is in question," Outlaw told NewsChannel 12. "Maybe we could come to closure. Let's get a hair sample and a urine sample and see what this is all about. I want to support my mayor. I want to continue to see this city run. But at the same time, if the situation is such that it impairs the ability of our mayor to run our city, we need to seriously look at other options."

Outlaw went on to say, "I don't wish this on anybody. I just would like to get it past us. New Bern is a beautiful city. This is not the kind of publicity any of us want."

The DWI arrest isn't Bettis' first run-in with the law. He was previously found not guilty of assaulting a woman almost three years ago.

Bettis was accused of grabbing the arms of Maria Maynard and shaking her at a YMCA pool in June, 2010. But a lifeguard testified that Bettis did not touch Maynard.

The judge also dismissed a disorderly conduct charge.

Bettis was elected as New Bern's mayor in 2009. He announced in late February that he will not run for a second term, saying he has done everything he set out to do.