Gaston Co. man sentenced to 10 years after 16th DWI

Ronnie Lee Welch has been charged with 16 DWI’s since the early 80s. The latest incident happened in May 2016. Welch has been sentenced to serve 10 years in prison.

Welch hasn’t had a license in at least 20 years but he doesn’t let that deter him from getting behind the wheel and driving while under the influence. In May, Welch struck a minivan, his car flew into a ditch and the minivan hit another vehicle.

“I can tell you that I convicted Mr. Welch of his last DWI and the judge gave him the maximum active sentence which in that case was a 24 month sentence,” said Gaston County Assistant District Attorney Donald Rice.

For the first time, Welch was charged with being a habitually impaired driver. The statute mandates a person can be declared habitually impaired if they’re convicted of DWI three times within a decade. Welch was not declared a habitual offender because he kept aging out while behind bars.

“What makes Mr. Welch’s case so unique is his status as a habitual felon and the number of driving while impaired cases that he has. But I have never seen a driving history like Mr. Welch’s and I probably never will again in my career,” said Rice.

The Highway Research Center at UNC Chapel Hill reports, more than 29 percent of all fatal crashes in North Carolina during 2014 involved alcohol.

“If you are going to a place where you know you are going to be consuming alcohol and you don’t arrange when you’re sober to get safe transportation home, you made the decision, when you were sober, to drink and drive and that’s an irresponsible decision.  That’s a decision to commit a crime, that’s a decision to put people’s lives at risk including your own,” said Rice.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, there were nearly 36,000 DUI arrests made in 2014 and more than 400 drunk driving fatalities.

Rice said, “you have individuals who are involved through no fault of their own in DWI wrecks and their lives are completely turned upside down for years to come, both financially and physically. They have a really hard time recovering.”