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A man who admitted to being drunk when he drove his truck into oncoming traffic, killing the driver of the other vehicle in the crash, was sentenced to 46 years in prison in Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court on Wednesday.
Robert Paul Twiddy, 33, of Mathews County, will serve 22 years for one count each of felony murder, third or subsequent offense of driving under the influence, and driving on a suspended license.
Twiddy pleaded guilty in October to each of those charges as part of a plea agreement that dropped the aggravated DUI manslaughter charge he faced.
In passing sentence, Judge Michael McGinty said that while he believes Twiddy is genuinely remorseful for his crime, he felt it was important to punish drunk driving severely in order to deter others in the community from doing it.
McGinty sentenced Twiddy to 40 years for homicide with 20 years suspended, five years for third or subsequent driving under the influence offense with four years suspended and 12 months on the misdemeanor driving on a suspended license charge, leaving him to serve 22 years total.
Twiddy was driving a GMC pickup in the wrong lane of Pocahontas Trail on Feb. 7, 2015 when he struck an oncoming Cadillac.
Jerry Matthew Minkins, the 50-year-old James City County man driving the Cadillac, was pronounced dead on his arrival at Riverside Doctors’ Hospital; Twiddy was airlifted from the crash scene to Norfolk General Hospital.
Twiddy remained in a coma for three weeks after the crash, during which time police obtained search warrants for his medical records. It was from those records they determined he had a blood alcohol concentration of .155 at the time of the crash.
In the previous two years, Twiddy had been found guilty of two other incidents of drunken driving – one in Mathews County and one in the City of Hampton.
At Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, five character witnesses took the stand to testify on behalf of Twiddy.
“[Twiddy] is good-hearted, loving, hardworking,” said Deborah Twiddy, the defendant’s mother. “He doesn’t have a harmful bone in his body.”
Twiddy’s father, aunt, former landlord and former coworker also took the stand, painting a consistent picture of an industrious young man going through a difficult patch during the 16-month period in which he accrued all three of his DUIs.
Defense attorney William Johnson also pointed out that both of Twiddy’s parents have also battled with substance abuse and each have two DUIs of their own on their criminal records.
“I was around a lot of drinking growing up, but I always told myself I wouldn’t be like that,” Twiddy said when he took the stand to testify in his own defense. “Things just spiraled out of control. … Jerry paid with his life for my problems.”
Jerry Minkins’ brother Ronnie Minkins spoke on behalf of his family, some of whom were also in the courtroom. He spoke about coping with his own personal grief and that of his family, but also touched on how necessary it is to hold drunk drivers responsible for their actions for the sake of the larger community.
“When it’s a second or third [driving under the influence] conviction, it’s not a mistake anymore,” Ronnie said.