High-profile tragedy shows the problems a state line can create
By MATT CAMPBELL The
Kansas City Star
Anthony Lamar Fields killed a young family of three one year ago Christmas Day.
The crash led to his first official driving-while-intoxicated conviction, but it was not the first time he drove while drunk.
How he avoided a DWI record before that Christmas crash illustrates the difference that two one-hundredths of a percent makes -- that's the difference between drunkenness in Kansas and drunkenness in Missouri. It's also an example of how a driver with licenses in adjoining states can evade authorities.
In August 1997 Leawood police pulled Fields over for speeding and found a half-empty bottle of liquor on the seat next to him. In a Breathalyzer test Fields tested at .154 percent blood-alcohol content in a state that defines intoxication as .08 percent.
Two weeks later, while Fields' Kansas case was pending, Kansas City police saw him in a Ford Expedition, swerving in front of oncoming traffic on Hillcrest Road. Fields came to a stop in the middle of the road and passed out with the motor running.
An hour later he tested .084 in a state that defines intoxication as 0.1 percent. He was fined $150 for careless and imprudent driving.
Leawood officials were unaware of the Missouri incident when they agreed to put Fields in a diversion program for first-time alcohol offenders, by which Fields could avoid a conviction record. They knew only that he had a valid Kansas license with no prior offenses.
But Fields also held a Missouri license, although it had been suspended three times.
Just as Kansas did not know about the Missouri arrest, Missouri was unaware of the Kansas charge.
Then Fields burst into the news with the 1998 Christmas wreck. Cecil and Tracy Stowers had been at her folks' home that evening, talking about 4-month-old daughter Sydney's future.
At the same time, Fields was drinking cognac and Coke. Then he hit the highway -- and his Saab hit the Stowers' vehicle. After the accident, Fields' blood-alcohol content was .16 percent.
At Fields' trial last month, Tracy's mother, Laverne Robinson, recalled that last family gathering.
Cecil and Tracy already were thinking about Sydney's education. They wanted to have more children and asked if the Robinsons could be counted on to help out with the grandkids.
"They were extremely happy, and of course we were happy," Laverne Robinson said through tears.
Fields was convicted of assault and of involuntary manslaughter while driving drunk. Fields will not discuss the crime, although his sister has expressed his regret. His sentencing is set for Jan. 7, and he faces up to 23 years in prison.
In a civil trial this month, a jury awarded the victims' families $23.4 million.
"We hope everyone will get the message that no one should drink and drive," Cecil Stowers' mother, Idora Henderson, said after the verdict.