FIRST ON 3: Suspect in fatal Pender crash convicted for similar 2010 crime
PENDER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — Troopers said a Rocky Point man died in a fiery, head-on crash Tuesday night in Pender County, and it’s not the first time the man accused of causing the crash has been involved in an incident like this.
It happened just before 7:30 p.m. on US 117 south of NC 133 near the New Hanover County line. That’s where Highway Patrol said a Ford pick-up truck crossed the center line hitting a sedan head-on.
Troopers said the truck caught fire after the crash. The truck’s driver, Richard Joseph Constantineau Jr., 48, of Rocky Point survived the crash, but was transported to the UNC Burn Clinic.
Highway Patrol said Ronald Eugene Larson died in the crash, and his passenger, Sandra Larson, was taken to the hospital. There’s no word on her condition.
Troopers said after consulting with district attorney Ben David, they determined that Constantineau will face charges for DWI and felony death by motor vehicle.
“We lose more people to driving each year than to guns and knives put together,” David said.
Constantineau has a long paper trail of previous charges.
“It’s something that we should be factoring in when looking at additional charges and that’s what we’re doing right now,” David said.
David said prosecutors are trying to see if it is appropriate to increase his charge to second degree murder.
Constantineau pleaded guilty in 2013 to misdemeanor death by vehicle. The plea came three years after he crossed the center line on NC 211 in Brunswick County and killed Stephanie Heath, 23. Investigators say blood tests at the hospital after that crash found methadone in Constantineau’s system. Heath’s family said prosecutors told them Constantineau had been involved in 14 wrecks in the previous 10 years.
In 2011, a judge ruled Constantineau, who was still awaiting trial in Heath’s death, unfit to operate any motor vehicle after a trooper stopped Constantineau in Pender County after he ran his moped into a ditch.
David said the court system deals with thousands and thousands of traffic matters each year.
“The only way to handle that volume of cases is to send people to driving school and dismiss things on the basis of compliance,” David said.
He said they take homicides and impaired driving very seriously.
“We’ve always had a no drop policy on DWIs,” David said.
David said he hopes to bring justice to both of the families affected by Constantineau’s driving.
“I look forward to looking into the eyes of the Heath family and the Larson family just as I have said on the phone and assure them of that,” David said.
Court record show Constantineau is due in court in New Hanover County for a speeding ticket next month.
David said, if Constantineau is out of the burn unit by Monday, he will make his first appearance in court.