"Too high to drive?" case ends before trial

On July 17th James Holt will be released after spending a full year in the county jail for driving high and killing two people.


How high is too high to drive?

With alcohol, there is a legal limit, but that is not the case with marijuana.

One case in Yell county promised to tackle the issue.

Promised - past tense. That’s because this week a deal was agreed to between prosecutors and a young man who killed his fiancee and young son while driving high.

James Holt has been living in the Yell County jail for eight months.

Holt was set to be tried next week on two counts of negligent homicide and one count of endangering a minor after the pickup he was driving in August of 2016 crashed, killing Heather Walker and their son 20-month-old Mitch Holt.

The couple's other child, Bentley, survived.

Toxicology results showed that Holt had cannabinoids in his system at the time of the accident.

"That is a real problem right now,” Prosecutor Tom Tatum told us last summer. “Drug driving and proving drug driving are difficult things."

Tatum's office will no longer have to prove that Holt was too high to drive because Holt was offered a deal: plead guilty and be released on July 17th after serving a full year in the county jail.

"Well he'll be on an ankle bracelet when he gets out,” says Carol Walker, mother of Heather Walker and grandmother of Mitch Holt. “And house arrest. And he can't have no contact with me or my family unless it is through the custody of Bentley. And that is it."

Carol Walker says everyone has been told not to drink and drive.

She hopes a similar campaign against getting high and driving grows soon.

"Oh I don't think anybody should smoke marijuana and drive,” says Walker. “I mean if you are going to smoke, I have nothing against it. Stay at home."

James Holt also got in trouble a couple times while in jail for getting caught with drugs and other contraband. He'll be on probation for five years for those offenses.

Our attempts to question prosecutor Tom Tatum about the decision to offer a plea rather than take this case to trial were unsuccessful.

UPDATE: After our broadcast, we did get a call from Deputy Prosecutor Marcus Vaden who handled this case. Vaden says the decision to offer the defendant a deal was largely driven by the fact that the Arkansas Crime Lab does not presently have a way to quantify the amount of marijuana in a driver's system. Vaden says he has been told that this will soon change, but at this time and for this case, such a quantification was not available, which would have made it difficult to prove that James Holt's use of marijuana was the primary factor in the crash that killed two people.

Air date: April 4th, 2018


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