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Restitution ordered for crash at Little Rock's Otter Creek Elementary

Judge: DWI driver must pay $30,000 by John Lynch | June 12, 2022 at 2:43 a.m.

A Little Rock man who demolished an elementary school classroom in a drunken-driving crash was ordered to pay partial restitution — $30,000 — over the next 10 years on Thursday with the possibility of prison looming if he doesn’t pay.

Vernon Jones, 42, crashed into the Otter Creek Elementary at 16000 Otter Creek Parkway just before 3 a.m. on May 14, 2020. Little Rock police witnessed the crash. Officers reported seeing Jones, who lives about a quarter-mile from the school, speeding on Stagecoach Road, according to an arrest report.

When police caught up to Jones and turned on their blue lights, he crashed into the school. To reach the classroom, authorities said, Jones had to drive across a parking lot, three curbs and over some bushes and trees, then crash through the school’s brick facade and into the empty classroom.

Jones pleaded guilty to felony criminal mischief and misdemeanor driving while intoxicated, charges that carry up to 12 years in prison for a repeat-felony offender like Jones, who has previous convictions for second-degree battery and domestic battering.

At sentencing Thursday, Ron Self, the Little Rock School District’s director of safety and security, told Pulaski County Circuit Judge Karen Whatley that the room was destroyed, with a significant part of the damage the result of smoke from Jones’ car setting off the fire-suppression system that flooded the room and adjacent areas.

Repair work lasted through the summer and into the fall semester, he said, and cost about $117,000, with $100,000 coming from the district after insurance. Self said he expects Jones’ insurance to reimburse the district $25,000, for a final cost of $75,000.

Deputy prosecutor Hannah Johnston suggested the judge impose a three-year prison sentence followed by a nine-year suspended sentence conditioned on repaying the district.

Defense attorney Malcolm Simmons urged the judge not to imprison Johnson because he’s the sole support for his two children, who will suffer if they’re separated from him.

Acknowledging Jones’ previous convictions, the most recent of which was 13 years ago, Simmons said Jones has taken full responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty and giving up drinking, Simmons told the judge. He asked the judge to give Jones the chance to try to make restitution.

The judge said she was more interested in seeing the school recoup at least some of its losses than sending Jones to prison.

“It’s a miracle you aren’t dead, the people on [the] road are not dead,” the judge told Jones. “You’re lucky it was the middle of the night.” With testimony that the Red Door restaurant cook earns about $2,000 a month at $17 per hour, the judge ordered him to serve a 10-year suspended sentence conditioned on paying $250 per month over that time.

“I know you’re not able to pay a lot of restitution but you’re going to have to pay what you can,” she said. “If school had not been out … you’d be in the pen.”


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