Man who took sleep aid pleads guilty in highway worker's death

News-DemocratApril 21, 2014 

A driver who took the sleep aid Ambien prior to hitting and killing a highway worker on Interstate 64 pleaded guilty Monday to driving under the influence.

As part of a plea agreement, the driver now faces 5 to 10 years in prison.

St. Clair County Chief Judge John Baricevic accepted the guilty plea from Michael J. Jeter, 36, of West Frankfort, on four counts of aggravated driving under the influence.

Jeter was charged after toxicology results revealed that he was under the influence of the sleep aid Ambien and an antihistamine after a crash on May 22, 2012, on Interstate 64.

During the hearing, Assistant State's Attorney Laura Reppert stated Jeter worked in a coal mine from 4 p.m. to midnight the night before the accident. He came home and took Ambien at 2 a.m. then awoke in the morning to make a two-hour drive for a doctor's appointment at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in St. Louis.

At that appointment, Reppert said his prescription for seven Ambien tablets was refilled.

Jeter was driving back from the appointment about 9:30 a.m. when drivers reported that he began driving erratically at speeds in excess of 85 mph. He left the roadway and struck Dennis Beard, Kory Links and Adam Evans, all of Pocohontas; and Brian Moore, of Hoyleton, who were in the median repairing a sign so they could stripe the highway.

Beard, a 38-year-old husband and father of three, was killed.

A prescription bottle was found in Jeter's car after the crash. The bottle contained four of the seven prescribed Ambien tablets, Reppert said. Witnesses who arrived to give first aid said Jeter seemed "out of it" and didn't know where he was, Reppert said.

Under the plea agreement, Jeter's attorney, John O'Gara, can argue for five years in prison when the sentencing hearing is held later. Reppert will argue for a 10-year prison sentence.

Jeter must serve 85 percent of his sentence before his is eligible for release. Links' right hand was broken and he suffered a back injury. Evans suffered face, chest and leg injuries. Moore suffered multiple broken bones.

Jeter is scheduled for sentencing before Baricevic on June 4.

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