Victim's family questions jail time for drunk driver - WSMV News 4

Victim's family questions jail time for drunk driver

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Carl Dollarhide Jr. (WSMV file photo) Carl Dollarhide Jr. (WSMV file photo)

Carl Dollarhide Jr. is now out of jail after serving about half of his sentence.

Dollarhide was sentenced to three years in jail for killing a mother and leaving her 1-year-old daughter a paraplegic in a drunk-driving crash.

Maddie Belt can only move her head and one arm. The rest of her body was paralyzed in the aftermath of the crash.

“I would like him to have to spend a day with Maddie and see what her day is like,” said Becky Thornton, Maddie’s grandmother.

Dollarhide was behind the wheel on June 6, 2015, in the crash on Clarksville Pike. He was 20 years old at the time.

Police say Dollarhide was drunk and high when he crossed the center line, hitting a car with two adults and four children inside.

Stacey Belt, Maddie’s mother, was killed.

The tragedy is now memorialized by an official highway marker.

On May 31, Dollarhide walked out of jail a free man.

“He’s out,” Thornton said. “It just leaves you speechless. You don’t know what to say.”

Dollarhide served 565 days in jail.

“You’re sitting here dealing with the loss of a family member, watching a little girl suffer every day, just trying to make it through the day. And you know the person that caused all this is probably laying on a couch watching TV somewhere,” Thornton said.

Dollarhide served about half of his three-year sentence. It was a controversial one from the start.

Dollarhide received eight years probation for Belt’s death and three years in jail for injuring Maddie.

The Tennessee Department of Correction said Dollarhide received credit for good. That took 553 days off his sentence.

“Maddie is facing a life sentence, and he spent a year and a half,” Thornton said. “She’s got a life sentence in a chair, a wheelchair.”

Maddie’s relatives wonder how much Dollarhide’s family connections had to do with the outcome. He is the nephew of attorney Bryan Lewis.

Lewis is a close friend of former Judge Casey Moreland.

The Lewis family is well known in Nashville. Dollarhide’s grandfather is Jimmy Lewis, a convicted gambler. His father is a former Metro police major.

“I didn’t know anything about this family until this happened. The more I learned – we lost from the beginning,” Thornton said. “I feel like we lost before we even began the fight.”

The court file is full of letters from prominent people asking the judge to give Dollarhide a second chance. Those letters came from prominent attorneys and businessmen, politicians, and a former federal judge. Many of them mentioned their long friendships with Jimmy Lewis and his wife.

Tennessee’s drunk driving laws didn’t help.

Dollarhide had no prior record. Because of that, Thornton said the district attorney warned her that meant a lighter sentence.

Thornton said she felt pressured by the district attorney’s office to agree to a plea bargain deal.

“If I had to do it over again, I would go in front of a jury,” she said. “I would want them to hear about my daughter, how she is not going to be here to raise her children, and how he’s devastated our family. And that no matter how much pull your family has, it doesn’t matter. A drunk driver is a drunk driver.”

Dollarhide received probation for Belt’s death, but that won’t happen in future cases. The law changed in January. Jail time is now mandatory when a drunk driver kills someone in a crash.

Ed Yarbrough, Dollarhide’s attorney, told Channel 4, “All these cases are tragic. There’s a classic conflict between the ideal of rehabilitation versus extreme punishment.”

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