A drunk driver’s attempt to appeal two second degree murder convictions was rejected by the NC Court of Appeals. In April 2011, a drunk Thomas Howard Grooms Jr., struck and killed a father and son out for a Sunday morning bicycle ride on River Road in Wilmington. This month, the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld Grooms’ conviction of second degree murder.
Thomas Howard Grooms Jr. appealed his conviction earlier this year, contending that proof of his prior drinking habits, pending drunk driving charge and the testimony of his ex-girlfriend that she had warned him against the dangers of impaired driving should not have been admitted into evidence.
According to the Court of Appeals, Grooms had been awake for 24 hours before he took the lives of a father and son on April 3, 2011. During the 24 hour period prior to the tragedy, Grooms consumed at least three scotches and soda, a glass of wine, 24 ounces of rum and had snorted mephedrone (commonly known as bath salts) twice.
Ronald David Doolittle II (known as David) and his 17-year-old son, Ronald David Doolittle III (known as Trey), were cycling south in the bicycle lane on River Road around 9:30 a.m. when another driver witnessed Grooms’ vehicle striking the pair at a speed of about 55 miles per hour. Grooms was picking up his cellphone to make a call when he caused the crash.
David died at the scene immediately following the collision while his son Trey clung to life as he was rushed to the hospital where doctors were unable to save him.
A State Trooper did a field sobriety test on Grooms that showed him to be intoxicated. Later lab tests showed that Grooms likely had a 0.16 blood alcohol level, twice the legal limit, at the time of the fatal crash.
During his trial, Grooms’ former girlfriend Thelma Shumaker testified that she had been with Grooms when he drove while drunk on the same road just two months before he killed David and Trey Doolittle. Shumaker said that at one point while she was with Grooms driving on River Road she demanded he stop driving because “she wanted to live.” Prosecutors argued that Shumaker’s unobserved warning to Grooms indicated malice on his part, as he knew that his actions were dangerous and could kill someone.
Evidence of another pending DWI charge was also considered relevant to malice, as it showed Grooms was “on notice” about the dangers and possible fatal outcomes of impaired driving, the judges determined.
The trial court sentenced Grooms to 12 years in prison for each death. He is currently an inmate in the Bertie Correctional Institution, according to the Department of Public Safety.