Charges dropped in fatal drunken driving case

Saturday, February 22, 2003

SALEM, N.J. -- After two mistrials in less than three years, prosecutors Friday dropped charges against a man over a deadly collision that occurred after he let a drunken friend get behind the wheel.

"It feels great," Kenneth Powell said outside the court. "I'm a little afraid to laugh or smile, but I'm glad it's over."

Powell, 41, was charged with manslaughter, vehicular homicide and aggravated assault after a 2000 crash that killed two people, including his best friend, Michael Pangle.

Pangle was driving a car that drifted across the center line and collided head-on with another vehicle.

The crash happened less than an hour after Pangle was released following a drunken-driving arrest. Powell had picked Pangle up after his arrest and taken him back to his vehicle instead of driving him home.

Defense attorneys and officials of Mothers Against Drunk Driving have said they believe it was the first time someone with no direct involvement in a drunken-driving accident had been charged for not stopping the driver involved.

Two mistrials

But jurors in two trials could not agree on whether Powell -- who faced up to 15 years in prison -- could be punished for his friend's mistake.

The first jury acquited Powell of manslaughter but deadlocked on the other charges. A mistrial was declared Feb. 10 after a second jury deadlocked again.

Prosecutors decided not to try him a third time.

"The juries, by their silence, have spoken," prosecutor William Brennan said. "We did what we did in the interest of justice, for all the people involved."

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