Appeals panel reduces crime in fatal crash to misdemeanor

— An Arkansas Court of Appeals panel Wednesday reduced a negligent homicide conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor against a Cabot woman accused in a 2005 fatal crash that killed a newlywed.

As a result, Pamela Kaye Robinson will not have to serve a 10-year sentence she drew from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Barry Sims unless the state appeals. The appeals court panel ordered her to serve the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor negligent-homicide conviction: a year in jail, with a $1,000 fine.

"We've been hoping it would come back this way for some time," said Robinson's attorney, David Cannon of Little Rock, who learned of the opinion late Wednesday afternoon after being in court for most of the day. "I've not had a chance to notifythe family."

Robinson has spent two weeks shy of a year in the McPherson Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction. The state prison system doesn't hold people convicted of misdemeanors but will need a court order to release Robinson or transferher to a county jail, said George Brewer, a prison spokesman.

The state has until April 23 to decide whether to appeal the panel's decision, said Gabe Holmstrom, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office.

Robinson, 46, a former bookkeeper, was convicted April 5, 2006, in the death of 26-yearold Derek Richard Balog. Balog, a senior at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, had been married about six months when Robinson, driving a Mercury, crossed into the westbound lane of Carmichael Road near Cabot and collided head-on with Balog's Nissan pickup. Balog was killed instantly.

But appeals Judge Robert J. Gladwin, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, said the state couldn't prove that she was intoxicated at the time of the crash. Even though tests indicated that she had drugs in her system, the tests indicated only recent use, not intoxication.

Gladwin also noted that two law enforcement officers at the accident scene indicated Robinson had no apparent signs of intoxication, a requirement for a felony negligent-homicideconviction; nor did her fellow employees note any sign that Robinson was intoxicated in the hours before the crash.

The state cited the manner in which the accident occurred, the passage of time and Robinson's use of multiple controlled substances to support Sims' conclusion that she was intoxicated. But, "Because the toxicologist and the crime-laboratory toxicologist could not say that the test results proved she was intoxicated, and the witnesses say she did not seem intoxicated, evidence of the accident and urine screen alone are not sufficient to find [Robinson] guilty of felony-negligent homicide," Gladwin wrote.

However, Gladwin said substantial evidence existed to support a misdemeanor negligent-homicide conviction. "The testimony of the accident reconstructionist was that [Robinson] was traveling at a high rate of speed around a curve in the road. She had an unimpaired view and failed to apply the brakes, which resulted in a head-on collision that killed Derek Balog."

Arkansas, Pages 14 on 04/05/2007