A D.C. Superior Court judge, declaring that it is time for judges, police and prosecutors to focus on the problem of drunken driving, has sentenced a Southeast Washington man to a year in jail for driving under the influence of alcohol and driving without a license.
"This is a national problem. Almost half of all traffic deaths nationally are alcohol-related," Judge George D. Neilson said yesterday in explaining the unusually stiff sentence he gave 54-year-old Howard Lee Bellamy, an unemployed maintenance man.
Neilson said the sentence was "tough," especially since it involved an accident in which there were no injuries. "It doesn't give me great pleasure to send someone to jail," he said, but added that Bellamy had a lengthy record, including six other convictions for drunken driving and other convictions for driving without a license.
"Drunk driving is killing so many people that until the problem is resolved, we've got to be firm," Neilson said. "I told him the public has to be protected and you have to be protected."
Bellamy has not had a driver's license since 1963, when his D.C. license was revoked after a conviction in North Carolina for driving under the influence of alcohol, according to court records.
Neilson, a nondrinker who has been on the local bench since his appointment in 1940 by President Roosevelt, has had a reputation as a tough judge on drunken drivers. A 1951 Washington Times-Herald cartoon on the wall of his chambers, next to mementos and photographs of Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson, shows Neilson meting out jail terms to three drunks.
The 76-year-old Neilson, who retired more than 20 years ago, still sits on cases regularly at the request of Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I. Hesaid every chief judge since his retirement has asked him to "help out."
Neilson believes he keeps getting such requests because he handles cases quickly. As he toyed with a gavel Truman gave him made from wood left over when the White House was remodeled, he said hisgoal is "sure and speedy and appropriate punishment."
Neilson said he generally treats first offenders and even second offenders in drunken driving cases leniently, especially when there is no serious accident involved. "Generally I fine them $150, give them a 90-day suspended sentence, one year on probation and refer them to get alcohol treatment," he said.
When Bellamy appeared before Neilson in 1980 on drunken driving charges, Neilson placed him on probation and ordered him to a city-run alcohol treatment center at Lorton Reformatory.
Tuesday Bellamy came before the judge again for sentencing on several charges stemming from three separate incidents between January and August 1981. Assistant corporation counsel Mark S. Mann noted during the hearing that Bellamy had been placed on probation previously and asked that a "substantial period of incarceration" be imposed.
Neilson said yesterday he told Bellamy he was "amazed to see you standing here," and was surprised that Bellamy had not hurt himself or others. He sentenced Bellamy to six months in jail for each of two counts of driving under the influence, and one year in jail for operating an automobile without a license, all to run concurrently.
Interviewed in D.C. Jail yesterday, Bellamy said he was surprised by the lengthy sentence. "I don't feel right about it. I didn't hit that fella--he hit me."
Bellamy also said that he only had "maybe a beer" before the accident, which he called a "fender bender," although his blood alcohol was recorded at .26, more than twice the legal requirement for a charge of drunken driving in Washington.
Bellamy said he has never been involved in an accident in which anyone was injured. He also said that, since his license was revoked 18 years ago, "I don't do that much driving. The police always stop me."
He said he has not been drinking since a recent operation on his right lung. "I haven't had a drink in two months," he said, adding that he generally did not drink excessively.
"They say I'm an alcoholic but I don't think so. I drink every once in a while."
A year in jail is the maximum sentence for a drunken driving conviction, and is rarely imposed, especially in cases where no injuries are involved.
Last week a Maryland man was sentenced to five years in jail in connection with an accident in which he was a drunken driver, and in which an elderly couple was killed. He received two years in jail for each of two counts of vehicular homicide, and a year in jail for driving under the influence of alcohol.