In a powerful piece published Sunday in the Valley News, veteran columnist Jim Kenyon described the saga of a poverty-stricken Strafford man who was arrested for driving under the influence of a prescribed antidepressant. Three days later, Windsor County State's Attorney David Cahill announced that his office would not prosecute the man, Scott Pixley, for a DUI — but would charge him with negligent driving.
The case dates back to July 31, when a Hartford police officer pulled Pixley over for allegedly veering over the center line while driving to pick up prescriptions for his elderly parents. Pixley, who works as a dishwasher, said he had been sleep-deprived and described his prescribed medications to the officer.
That didn’t appease police, who, according to Kenyon, impounded Pixley's car, handcuffed him and and temporarily locked him in a holding cell. Blood tests later revealed that Pixley had caffeine and a prescribed medication in his system at the time of his arrest, Kenyon reported, leading police to cite him with a DUI.
In response to inquires, Cahill informed Seven Days and the Valley News by email Wednesday that his office would only charge Pixley with negligent driving. He is scheduled to be arraigned November 20. The Valley News first reported the prosecutor's decision.
“Looking at the evidence, I do not believe the state could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Pixley was under the influence of a drug or drugs and that that was what caused the alleged bad driving,” Cahill said during a subsequent interview.
Why charge him at all? “I think it’s enormously important to intervene with drivers who are at risk of causing death or serious injury before they do so,” Cahill said.
The state’s attorney said Kenyon’s column didn’t influence the decision.
In an interview Wednesday, Kenyon said that his subject still faces an "uphill battle."
“It doesn’t change a lot for Scott Pixley because he’s still facing a misdemeanor,” the columnist said. “There’s no such thing as a minor crime in the criminal justice system.” One risk, according to Kenyon, is that Pixley could lose his driver's license, which he needs to commute to his job in Hanover.
Still, the longtime columnist has been encouraged by the reaction to his story. After it came out, four attorneys reached out to Kenyon offering to help Pixley, pro bono.
"It’s a little cliché, but people like the Pixleys don’t have a voice in this country and [newspapers] can give them that voice," Kenyon said.