It took nearly three months for Dr. Patrick Conway’s traffic accident to cost him his high-level job.
It took two hours for competing lawyers to argue whether the former CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina should be charged for the wreck.
And it took 15 minutes for a judge to issue her ruling.
District Court Judge Sarah Lanier on Tuesday found Conway guilty of driving while impaired and misdemeanor child abuse for his actions during the accident on June 22. That day, Conway steered his Cadillac Escalade into the back of a tractor-trailer while traveling on Interstate 85 near Archdale. His children were in the back seat.
Conway refused a breathalyzer test, so his blood alcohol content from that day is unknown. But police officers who responded to the accident testified Tuesday in a Randolph County courtroom that Conway had red eyes, swayed when he walked and showed signs of impairment.
Conway, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, put his hand to his forehead when Lanier announced her decision. His attorney, Jonathan Megerian, immediately told the judge that Conway plans to appeal.
Sentencing will be delayed until the case is appealed. In the meantime, Conway is not allowed to drive again until his license is restored.
Blue Cross NC trustees initially believed Conway fit to return to work after the accident. In a letter last month, they said they were encouraged that he completed 30 days of rehabilitation and demonstrated remorse for the accident.
But their attitude changed in late September, after news outlets published a video of the accident as well as details of a previously undisclosed police report. Blue Cross NC halted its merger with Oregon-based Cambia Health Solutions. State Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey called on Conway to resign. He did on Sept. 25.
The video and details of the police reports from June 22 were presented in court Tuesday.
Scott and Ellen Maddox, a couple from Salisbury, testified about the video they took of Conway’s SUV on the day of the accident. The recording was part of the materials that led to Conway’s departure.
The lyrics “You can feel it all over” from Stevie Wonder’s song “Sir Duke” can be heard playing from the Maddoxes’ radio as they followed Conway’s SUV and recorded him.
“We realized something was gonna happen at some point,” Ellen Maddox testified. “I was a nervous wreck.”
After the wreck, Scott Maddox got out of his car and confronted Conway.
“He seemed disheveled and incoherent,” he said of Conway.
Lawyers questioned Archdale police officers who interacted with Conway about what they saw that afternoon.
For the prosecution, assistant Randolph County District Attorney Peter Rosentrater asked Archdale police officer J.P. Flinchum why he believed Conway was impaired.
Flinchum said Conway seemed “unsteady,” and noticed that Conway failed his first attempt to turn off the car’s engine. Conway reached for the ignition but “missed the button,” Flinchum said.
Another Archdale police officer, identified as Officer P.A. Alade, said Conway demonstrated a range of emotions. Conway went from “angry and belligerent to upset and crying,” he said.
Alade said Conway was so out of control that he had to be shackled in a jail cell, a strategy questioned by Megerian, Conway’s lawyer. He said Conway was upset because he didn’t know the location of his daughters, and he pushed back at the idea that Conway acted in an out-of-the-ordinary fashion.
“Most people don’t want to be shackled, do they?” Megerian said.
Child abuse charges
Megerian disputed the child abuse charge, which Conway was charged with because his young children were in the car at the time of the accident.
Megerian argued that North Carolina child abuse laws aren’t intended to be applied in cases in which children aren’t injured and when the risk of injury is accidental.
Megerian asked the Maddoxes and the three Archdale police officers who testified whether Conway’s children appeared to be injured. Witnesses answered no, or that they didn’t see enough to testify about the children’s physical state.
“There was no intent” to harm the children, Megerian told the court in a closing statement. “There wasn’t even injury by accidental means.”
In abuse cases, Megerian said state law allows the court to consider the wishes of a spouse or partner. Conway’s wife, Heather, asked for the child abuse charges to be dropped, Megerian said.
For most of the afternoon, Conway sat expressionless behind the defense table. But he clinched his lips and shook his head as Archdale policeman Z.R. Livingston recounted an interaction during Conway’s arrest.
According to Livingston, Conway said: “You don’t know who I am. I am a doctor, a CO of a company. I’ll call Governor Cooper and get you in trouble.”
Conway also appeared on the verge of tears when his daughters’ names were read aloud.
After the ruling, reporters followed Conway out of the courthouse. The former CEO walked away with his head down, saying nothing.