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Habitual drunk driver may get life for fatal crash

CONROE- A Willis man believed to be responsible for a fatal crash on August 31, 2008 was indicted by a Montgomery County grand jury on Wednesday on charges of Felony Murder, Intoxication Manslaughter, and two counts of Intoxication Assault.

Caleb Henry Kent, 26, is currently out on a personal bond from the 284th District Court for Intoxication Manslaughter. He was facing from two years probation to 20 years in prison for that charge, but with the indictment for (first-degree) Felony Murder, Kent now faces five years to life in prison, in addition to possible punishment for the other charges.

The crash occurred on SH 105 near Whippoorwill Rd., where Kent is accused of crossing the center line and striking another vehicle with multiple occupants.

Exclusive Aug. 31, 2008 on-scene video.
Click the arrow to watch (Flash player required).

One victim died several days after the crash.

Investigating officers reported that Kent appeared to be significantly impaired, and a blood test confirmed he was intoxicated, according to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutor Warren Diepraam presented to the grand jury the more serious charge of Felony Murder, which he says is also known as the “accidental murder” statue, because of Kent’s two prior DWI convictions.

Public Data shows Kent has a lengthy criminal history, with his first DWI charge on Aug. 13, 2001, when he was only 18. A few months later, Kent was sentenced to 180 days probation plus a fine and court costs.

Kent’s second DWI arrest occurred on Nov. 6, 2004 in Houston. At the same time, he was charged with possession of marijuana. The following January, Kent pleaded guilty to Driving While Intoxicated (second) and was sentenced to 120 days in jail, plus a fine and court costs. The possession of marijuana charge was dismissed.

On June 29, 2005, just six months after sentencing for his second DWI, Kent was arrested in Montgomery County for Driving While License Invalid. He pleaded guilty to that charge on Sept. 21, 2005 and was sentenced to time served (three days in jail), plus a fine and court costs.

Diepraam is a longtime colleague and friend of Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon, who took office on Jan. 1. Recognizing the county’s epidemic of DWI related injuries and deaths, Ligon made enforcement of that crime a top priority. He then somehow persuaded Diepraam, who is nationally recognized for his successful DWI prosecutions, to abandon Harris County and join his team in Conroe.

Diepraam is known for spearheading the effort to bring murder charges against repeat DWI offenders who kill, instead of prosecuting them on the lesser charge of intoxication manslaughter, as in Kent’s case.

“If a person commits a felony such as DWI Third and also commits a dangerous act such as driving into oncoming traffic and a death results, the law allows us to proceed with a Felony Murder charge,” Diepraam said.

He was the first to successfully prosecute such a case.

The veteran DWI prosecutor also said the upgraded charge of Felony Murder removes a jury’s option to give Kent probation on that charge, thanks to a recent amendment by the Texas Legislature. While Kent was also indicted on the lesser offense of Intoxication Manslaughter, if he is convicted of Felony Murder, he will not be tried on the lesser charge.

Regardless of the outcome of charges related to the fatality, Kent also faces prosecution on two counts of Intoxication Assault, an offense punishable by two years probation to ten years in prison. Diepraam said the charges could be stacked, but that will be the judge’s decision.

The charges also carry a potential fine of up to $10,000 each.

Diepraam said pursuing the most serious charge possible is “in line with the District Attorney’s approach of ensuring that our most dangerous offenders are taken off our streets in Montgomery County.”

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