DUI Murder Cases On the Rise In Kentucky, Prosecutors Working to Convict Suspects

By: Randy Yohe Email
By: Randy Yohe Email

FLOYD COUNTY, Ky. (WSAZ) -- Driving under the influence can get you in enough trouble with the law; when an intoxicated driver is charged with killing another person on the road it can lead to murder charges.

DUI murder cases are increasing as new laws incorporate pain pill abuse with alcohol.

There was a murder committed every two days in Kentucky in 2010 according to the Kentucky State Police Crime report for that year. About 30,000 Kentuckians were arrested on DUI charges -- with the eastern part of the state having more than anywhere else.

Two more DUI death suspects were in Eastern Kentucky courts Thursday morning. Prosecutors say even though they used a vehicle with booze and pills instead of a gun or knife to kill -- it is still murder.

Malen Mitchell Jr entered a not guilty plea to DUI murder and fleeing the scene charges. Prosecutors and police say the Floyd County man was impaired in July when he crossed a center line, killing 22-year-old mother of four, Tiffany Blankenship.

In the same courthouse on the same morning, 33-year-old James Slone, of Melvin, Ky., faced one DUI and two murder charges. Investigators say he crossed a center line and hit and killed Jeff Hamilton, of McDowell, and Karen Mitchell, of Hi Hat.

Prosecutors say DUI murder charges are being pursued more aggressively. Commonwealth Attorney Brent Turner said, “it is a murder, not intentional, but a wanton murder, and we need to do all we can to stop this kind of behavior. And we are getting more DUI cases related to pills.”

In Ashland, July 2008, 11 year old Kristopher Calloway was critically injured and his grandfather Rusty Bellomy killed when their motorcycle was hit by Billy Joe Barker's truck. 21-year-old Barker, who police say was drunk at the scene, avoided a murder DUI sentence by pleading guilty to manslaughter and DUI.

In Pikeville, January 2008 Ronnie Church's family remembered a loving husband and father. Police say repeat DUI offender Billy Reed killed Church with his pick up truck.

This past spring in Martin County, prosecutors say habitual drug and alcohol offender Brandon Sluss was high on a pain pill cocktail when he crossed a center line killing young Destiny Brewer. Sluss was found guilty of murder and repeat DUI.

Prosecutors say compared to alcohol abuse, Kentucky’s recently passed drug to driving law focuses on the challenge of detecting pain pill abuse while behind the wheel, BUT they say even with the new law -- compared to alcohol -- it's still a challenge to prove DUI and related crimes like murder by pill abuse.

DUI double murder suspect James Slone is jailed on a one million dollar bond. His arraignment is set for later this month.

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