WILMINGTON — Many reacted with confusion and frustration to a statement on Friday from the Wilmington Police Department, announcing that a woman convicted in a fatal hit-and-run and DWI would face just six months, after time already served.
WPD announced that Brooke Honeycutt, 25, pleaded guilty to ‘felony hit and run resulting in death’ and a DWI charge resulting from the death of 30-year-old Justin Corbett last year. She was sentenced to 6 months in jail, with 120 days already served.
The collision that took Corbett’s life happened on the evening of Sunday, September 29, shortly before 8 p.m. on Market Street near New Centre Drive. In October of 2019, WPD eventually secured a warrant for Honeycutt’s arrest based on tips from the public, but at the time still had not located her vehicle, a burgundy 2003 Lincoln. Honeycutt was arrested by U.S. Marshalls on October 14, 2019, and had been in custody since then.
The sentence was handed down by Judge Kent Harrell in New Hanover County Superior Court on Thursday. Readers responded to several area media outlets with questions about the perceived leniency of the sentence, as well as about why other charges —- including vehicular manslaughter — weren’t brought against Honeycutt.
District Attorney Ben David’s office clarified that this was an ‘open plea’ in which prosecutors had no role. The DA’s office noted that this was not a ‘plea deal’ arranged between prosecutors and Woody White, who served as Honeycutt’s attorney. The DA’s office stated that it pushed for the “full active sentence” — a maximum of 29 months in prison — but that Judge Harrell alone made the final sentencing decision.
According to the DA’s office, “for the DWI she received a 120-day active sentence. For the Felony Hit and Run Resulting in Death, she received a split sentence, with 6 months active, plus a suspended sentence of 16-29 months. This sentence will run at the expiration of the DWI sentence. She will also have 36 months of supervised probation, during which time she must abstain from alcohol and other impairing substances. If she violates the terms of this probation, she will go back into custody and serve the remainder of the sentence (16-29 months). “
According to the DA’s office, Honeycutt’s family ‘allocuted,’ a formal plea — often for mitigation of a sentence — issued after conviction but prior to sentencing. [Editor’s note: Port City Daily has requested audio records of the sentencing hearing.]
Other possible charges
Prosecutors were unable to meet the criteria for stronger charges, including North Carolina’s ‘felony death by vehicle’ offense, which can result in sentences of over 10 years when committed while intoxicated.
According to the DA’s office, while debris from the impact was found at the scene there were no direct witnesses and no surveillance video footage of the crash. This made the more serious charge difficult to bring against Honeycutt. Even the DWI charge was difficult to prove, according to the DA’s office, and was only possible after the FBI analyzed video of Honeycutt consuming alcoholic beverages at an establishment before driving.
Vehicular death vs. other loss of life
District Attorney Ben David stated that WPD and his prosecutors “fought for maximum justice.” David noted that “the loss of life is just as great in a vehicular death as it would be in a case involving any other weapon.” While David did not directly express frustration with the state law, he did say “the legislature has regarded the sentences for this conduct differently than in other crimes of violence.”