Allegedly found unconscious and slumped over the steering wheel of his car, New Hanover County Commissioner Brian Berger has added two new charges to his list of legal troubles with an arrest early Friday, Dec. 6.
Berger was arrested at 12:47 a.m. and charged with his second DWI in a year, along with possession of a Schedule II controlled substance.
Wilmington Police Department spokeswoman Linda Rawley said Dec. 6 that officers were responding to a report of a vehicle stopped in the middle of Masonboro Loop Road near Navaho Trail. Emergency medical and fire personnel arrived with police, who found “several different pills determined to be Schedule II,” Rawley said.
The state of North Carolina classifies Schedule II drugs as those with an accepted medical use and a high risk of dependency.
Berger appeared before 5th Judicial District Court Judge Robin W. Robinson Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. via video feed from the New Hanover County courthouse, where he was still being held on a $5,000 bond. The district attorney asked Robinson to increase his bail to $15,000, citing his prior convictions including injury to personal property and domestic violence, in addition to his pending DWI charge.
Judge Robinson retained the $5,000 bond, setting his new DWI court date for Feb. 20, 2014, and his Schedule II case for Dec. 19, 2013. Berger’s latest arrest has pushed back the trial date for his previous DWI, with which he was charged Dec. 18, 2012. Originally scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 3, that case is now set to be heard Jan. 29.
After the hearing, Attorney Buddy Allard of Hewlett, Collins and Allard, LLP, who is representing Berger, emphasized Berger was innocent until proven guilty. While he confirmed that Berger had prescriptions for two of the three medications, all three substances — a total of three half doses — were found in the same bottle, and he said he had not been able to confirm with his client whether he has a prescription for the other drug.
“There is not allegation that he was in possession of any illegal controlled substance,” Allard said. “The rumors that it was some street drug, or illegal controlled substance, is exactly that: a rumor.”
In a Dec. 10 interview, District Attorney Ben David’s administrative assistant Samantha Dooies said while the current possession charge is a felony, it could be reduced depending on how the case plays out.
“What is kind of at issue right now is what the substance was that he was charged with,” Dooies said, adding it could take time to obtain test results from the lab. “What we’re trying to look at right now is whether it should have been a misdemeanor charge or a felony charge. That’s something that will come out through the court process.”
Judge Robinson added Berger could face up to three years in prison for the new DWI and up to two years in prison for the possession charge, depending on his record.
In response to Berger’s arrest, New Hanover County Commissioners Chairman Woody White’s closing comments at the board’s last meeting of 2013 reiterated his call for Berger’s resignation.
“While we hope that he is doing OK, and we hope that he is seeking help, we also would like to strongly encourage him to reconsider resignation, and short of that we hope that he will stay off of our local roadways when his capacity to drive is not there,” White said. “We wish him well, and I will repeat what [I] and the other commissioners offered six months ago, which is anytime he wants our help, all he has to do is ask for it.”
Berger was removed from the board May 20, after being found unfit for public office through the amotion process. He then appealed the decision, and was reinstated to the board Sept. 5 after a superior court found comments made by fellow commissioners during his amotion hearing violated due process. However, the judge left open the possibility of the board holding another amotion hearing.
Asked after the meeting whether he would consider revisiting the amotion process to remove Berger from the board, White declined to comment further.