A Yancey County Jury convicted Dr. Ernest Todd Holden, former superintendent of schools for Ashe and Madison counties, of Driving While Impaired, on Aug. 9, according to a release from 24th Prosecutorial District Attorney Seth Banks.
According to records previously obtained from the Yancey County Clerk of Courts Office and the current release from Banks office, Holden was driving in downtown Burnsville shortly before midnight on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. A concerned citizen notified the Yancey County Sheriff’s Department of Holden’s erratic driving.
Holden was stopped and arrested by the Burnsville Police Department for suspicion of Driving While Impaired. The investigation was then taken over by Trooper Brandon Peterson of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. Holden submitted a sample of his breath which showed an alcohol concentration of 0.13. Consequently, Holden was charged with Driving While Impaired.
Holden was then the superintendent of schools for Madison County. Holden had served as Ashe County’s school superintendent from 2013 to 2016. He resigned from Ashe County schools to assume the superintendency of Madison County schools on July 1, 2016. The Madison County Board of Education accepted Holden’s resignation on April 4, 2017. He had been previously suspended by the board following his arrest.
Trooper Brandon Peterson died on April 7, 2017, at the age of 31. Holden’s case was still pending at the time of Peterson’s death, and the district attorney’s office decided to proceed even without being able to admit Holden’s alcohol concentration. Holden pleaded not guilty and was convicted by District Court Judge Ted McEntire on July 17, 2017.
Holden then appealed his conviction to Superior Court and requested a jury trial. The second trial began Aug. 7, 2018. Because of Peterson’s death, the jury did not hear evidence that Holden’s blood alcohol concentration was nearly twice the legal limit. Nevertheless, because of the other compelling evidence of impairment, the jury returned as its unanimous verdict that the Holden was guilty of Driving While Impaired. Superior Court William H. Coward sentenced Holden to a suspended sentence of 90 days in jail, and ordered that he pay a $500 fine and court costs. Additionally, Holden is required to get a substance abuse assessment and complete 48 hours of community service.
“This is the last pending case that was charged by Trooper Brandon Peterson,” Banks said in a statement. “It is indicative of the quality of Trooper Peterson’s investigations and his work ethic that we were able to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt despite his untimely passing. He was truly an exemplary law enforcement officer who continues to be missed by all of us who had the privilege of knowing him. I would like to thank Assistant District Attorney Milton Fletcher, the Yancey County Sheriff’s Office, the Burnsville Police Department, and the North Carolina Highway Patrol for their efforts to keep our streets and highways safe.”
Holden is now on the ballot seeking election to the Ashe County Board of Education in November.
“It was a year and a half ago, we just finished the trial, there are some medical issues that were in there, but we got convicted, that’s all there is to it,” Holden said in a phone interview. “As far as running for school board, it doesn’t hamper my ability to do the job any more or less, everybody makes mistakes, this one cost me about $135,000.”