The man who some say terrorized northern Durham residents with his aggressive driving was finally sentenced in a case that has been before three judges, including one who shot down a previous plea deal.
Maurice Beckwith, 52, pleaded guilty Monday to assault with a deadly weapon and reckless driving, both misdemeanors, in Durham County Superior Court. Beckwith entered an Alford plea, which means he acknowledged there was evidence against him but did not admit guilt.
Beckwith faced a maximum punishment of up to 210 days in jail for the charges. But he avoided jail time, as Judge Orlando Hudson sentenced him to 18 months of unsupervised probation.
It was the second time Beckwith faced charges for what police and residents described as a pattern of aggressive driving in areas north of Interstate 85 over many months.
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On June 12, Beckwith was convicted of reckless driving and driving too closely, a traffic infraction, in a case in which an officer captured his driving on dash camera in March 2017.
The charges in which Beckwith pleaded guilty Monday came about after David Waters sought a citizen-initiated warrant for Beckwith’s arrest.
Waters said he was driving on a Sunday in October 2016 when Beckwith followed him closely, passed him on a double yellow line and then slammed on his brakes.
Beckwith stopped in the middle of Horton Road and got out, Waters said.
“I am thinking he is going to really attack me, that he is coming at me,” Waters said in an interview. “He goes to his trunk and opens his trunk, and at this point I am calling 911. I am thinking there is going to be a gun.”
Beckwith closed his trunk and got back in his car, Waters said. Waters then went to a police substation to report the incident.
Waters said police told him they couldn’t do anything about the incident if they didn’t witness it, but he learned more than a year later that he could seek a citizen-initiated warrant, which he did successfully in December 2017.
Beckwith became “a community concern” after he exhibited a pattern of aggressive driving behavior, Assistant District Attorney Alex Herskowitz told Hudson on Monday
After concerns about an aggressive driver started to spread, members of the community used social media sites Facebook and Nextdoor to track similar incidents. They worked with police in March 2017 to capture video of Beckwith’s aggressive driving on dashboard cameras in patrol cars, which resulted in the June 12 conviction.
In that case, Beckwith was sentenced to 18 months of supervised probation, which included his license being suspended over that time, and 100 hours of community service.
Waters and others said they were hoping that Beckwith would get jail time for the second round of charges.
District Court Judge Fred Battaglia agreed.
After a trial, Battaglia found Beckwith guilty of assault with a deadly weapon and reckless driving and sentenced him to 150 days in jail. Beckwith appealed the ruling to Superior Court, which meant the District Court’s decision was void.
In August, Beckwith entered a guilty plea to those two charges associated with Waters in Superior Court as part of plea deal in which Beckwith would get supervised probation.
The deal fell apart after Superior Court Vince Rozier, a visiting judge based in Wake County, said he was uncomfortable with that deal, considering the June 12 conviction from the first case.
“It seems like he is getting a better deal after he has been found guilty of another reckless driving,” said Vince Rozier, a visiting judge based in Wake County. “And I am trying to figure out why he should get a lighter sentence when at this point in time we have more information than the day he was found guilty the first time.”
On Monday, Beckwith’s attorney Ralph Frasier initially said he wanted to continue the case since he had just been hired.
After JHudson criticized Rozier’s decision to not take the previous plea deal, Frasier said his client decided to enter an open plea.
Frasier said his client doesn’t know Waters and doesn’t recall the incident. He also said his client can no longer drive due to a medical condition.