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R.I. man held without bail after ninth OUI arrest

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By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / December 7, 2010

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TAUNTON — A Rhode Island man, convicted eight times of drunken driving and arrested on the same charge again early Saturday, was ordered by a judge yesterday to undergo a dangerousness hearing after prosecutors asserted he is a threat to public safety.

Vernon Perry, 52, of East Providence, appeared groggy in Taunton District Court yesterday morning, wearing a dark gray sweatshirt and blue jeans, and did not speak during the five-minute proceeding. A plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf.

Perry has eight drunken driving convictions dating back to 1983 and had his license suspended for four years as a result of two convictions in 2001. His license was not revoked with those convictions because the offenses occurred at a time when authorities could consider only a driver’s prior 10-year record. The “lifetime look back’’ was signed into law in 2002 and gave the Registry of Motor Vehicles the ability to consider a driver’s entire history when weighing penalties for new offenses.

And Melanie’s Law, passed in 2005, stiffened penalties against drunk drivers. In Perry’s case, that translates to a lifetime license revocation, triggered by his refusal to submit to a breath test Saturday and his history of at least three prior drunken driving convictions. Perry held a valid license when he was arrested Saturday in Seekonk.

Bristol District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter said yesterday in a telephone interview, “It is hard to fathom somebody with eight previous convictions drinking and getting behind the wheel of a car, but it does happen.’’

Sutter said his office routinely seeks dangerousness hearings for people with more than four drunken driving convictions. Perry stands to be held up to 90 days without bail.

If Perry is indicted and convicted in Superior Court, he faces a maximum five-year prison sentence. If convicted at the district court level, he would face a maximum 2 1/2-year sentence in a house of correction.

“He is a perfect example of how beneficial Melanie’s Law can be in getting repeat offenders off the road,’’ said Ann Dufresne, spokeswoman for the RMV. After his four-year license suspension, Perry was eligible for reinstatement in 2006, she said. But under Melanie’s Law, he was required to drive with an interlocking ignition device for two years, until 2008, she said.

The registry also took the “unprecedented step’’ of notifying police in Winthrop, where Perry lived at the time, because of his numerous convictions. Perry’s license was reinstated in 2008.

According to a Seekonk police report, Perry told police Saturday morning that he wanted to kill himself. Police had learned, according to the report, that he had a history of suicidal tendencies.

Police Officer Eric Chalifoux asked him if he was seeking psychiatric care, to which he replied yes. Perry said he wanted to slit his wrists and then told the officer, “It’s all over. I don’t care anymore. I want to die.’’ Police drove Perry to Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro for an evaluation.

While at Sturdy, police allowed Perry to use a bathroom near his room. After several minutes passed, an officer noticed the emergency assistance light on outside the bathroom. Hospital staff found Perry had wrapped the assistance cord around his throat.

Perry was then transferred to Westwood Lodge, a mental health and alcohol addiction treatment facility in Westwood. Yesterday, state troopers drove Perry from the facility to court, where he was ordered held without bail pending a dangerousness hearing Thursday.

James Hassan, a court-appointed attorney based in Brockton who represented Perry for bail purposes only yesterday, said that he talked with Perry and “he understands what’s going on. He’s not happy about being held but he understands what’s going on.’’

According to the police report, a Seekonk officer first saw Perry driving a 2001 gray Saturn sedan on Taunton Avenue, traveling at about 52 miles per hour in a 40-mile-per-hour zone.

The officer followed Perry and observed the car swerving, crossing the marked traffic lane, the report said. The officer pulled Perry over and noticed that his eyes were blurry, his speech was somewhat slurred, and that an odor of alcohol emanated from the car, according to the report. Perry fumbled with his wallet before he was able to get his license.

Perry told police that he had one beer about an hour prior, and said he was headed to his mother’s house in East Providence.

Seekonk police asked Perry if he could recite the alphabet from A to Z and he replied, “No one could do that. From A to Z? That’s crazy. Come on.’’

Perry then failed a field sobriety test and refused to submit to the breath test, police said.

Brian R. Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com.