A district court judge dismissed a DWI case against Catawba County Assistant District Attorney Eric Bellas on Wednesday in Brunswick County.
Bellas, 45, of Morganton, was charged with DWI during summer 2011 while attending a district attorney’s conference in Sunset Beach. After two continuances, the case was dismissed Wednesday by Judge Nancy Phillips at the Brunswick County Courthouse.
The charge of driving while impaired was dismissed at the close of the state’s presentation of evidence after Phillips granted a motion to suppress the arrest, said Heather Jesina, courtroom clerk for the case.
The Brunswick District Attorney’s Office did not elaborate on the case.
The suppression of the DWI arrest indicates that there may not have been sufficient proof or evidence to justify it, such as lack of reasonable suspicion or probable cause.
Bellas’ counsel Roy Trest said the case boiled down to the inability of investigators to show where the accident occurred and if his client was impaired. He said Bellas was found bleeding profusely and was even unconscious for a time. He said there was insufficient evidence to charge his client with DWI in the first place.
“This was a very insufficient case to criminally prosecute someone,” Trest told The News Topic of Lenoir. “I’ve seen thousands of DWI cases in my career, and this was one of the weakest I’ve seen.
“There always seems to be a rush to judgment," he continued. "I’m very pleased that District Attorney Jay Gaither did not rush to judgment and let the system play out. In the long run the system does work if you give it time to get all the parts together. We’re happy the system worked out in this case.”
Gaither also commented to The News-Topic on Wednesday’s dismissal.
“Mr. Bellas has an unblemished record of civic duty,” Gaither said. “He’s an excellent prosecutor. The court’s ruling, thankfully, puts an end to this.”
Bellas was arrested by a Sunset Beach Police officer on a charge of operating a vehicle while subject to an impairing substance in the early hours of June 21, 2011. The arrest came after Bellas was involved in a bicycle crash along Clubhouse Road inside the Sea Trail Resort, which served as the host site for the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys Summer Association meeting June 19-22.
He was placed in the Brunswick County Jail but later left under a custody release to Cynthia Bellas.
The police report indicated that Bellas was not cooperative when the officer questioned him about what happened, made no statement and refused to take a Breathalyzer test to determine his blood alcohol level.
Bellas was placed on administrative leave following the incident but was reinstated two weeks later. Gaither indicated in an e-mail to the News-Topic at the time that the charge was not enough to warrant further disciplinary action against Bellas.
The News Topic Editor Nathan Key contributed to this report.