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North Carolina auditor pleads guilty to hit-and-run

 State auditor Beth Wood at a Raleigh GOTV event on Oct. 21, 2020.
via Flickr
State auditor Beth Wood at a Raleigh GOTV event on Oct. 21, 2020.

North Carolina's elected auditor pleaded guilty on Thursday to a misdemeanor for leaving the scene of a December crash in which she drove her state-owned vehicle into a parked car.

Four-term Democratic State Auditor Beth Wood told a judge she made a “grave mistake” and should have remained at the accident to let the process play out.

“I am a public servant elected by the people of North Carolina. I am human. I am not perfect,” she said in a Wake County courtroom. “I apologize to the people of North Carolina who have trusted me.”

District Court Judge Louis Meyer sentenced Wood, 68, to about $300 in fines and court costs, noting that Wood already had personally paid well over $11,000 to cover damages and other costs with both cars.

Still, Meyer told Wood, “This was a glaring incident of poor judgment.”

Wood, who was first elected auditor in 2008, had previously said publicly that she erred by leaving the scene of the Dec. 8 accident in downtown Raleigh as she left a holiday party.

No one was hurt in the accident in which Wood was driving her state-assigned vehicle, a 2021 Toyota Camry. Photos and 911 calls reported on by media outlets showed that part of her car was on top of the parked vehicle.

In court, Wood said that she had been drinking alcohol at the party.

"I was not impaired, but given the positioning of the two cars and the fact that I had had two glasses of wine at this event, I made an error in judgment in the moment," she said. “And if I made the right decision, we would not be here today.”

Wood’s appearance came days after two men also were charged with assisting her in avoiding police or fleeing the scene.

Wood left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. Attorney Roger Smith Jr. said he believed that Wood was treated like any other defendant given the circumstances and the lack of a criminal record.

The state auditor, one of 10 members of the North Carolina Council of State, performs financial reviews of state agencies, as well as performance audits and other studies sought by the General Assembly. Wood's position is up for reelection in 2024.

While Wood hasn’t said specifically whether she will seek reelection next year, she has talked after the accident about her commitment to continuing her duties.

The state Republican Party has called for Wood’s resignation. Top elected Democrats have said they wanted to see the case played out.

Wake District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said videos from area businesses helped police identify Wood as the driver. She was charged several days after the accident with the property-only hit-and-run count as well as another traffic-related charge that was dismissed Thursday. Freeman told Meyer that her office and the owner of the private vehicle were satisfied with Wood's plea and damage payments.

Last Friday, Raleigh police cited Jonah Richard Mendys and Ryan Scott McGurt both of Chapel Hill, with misdemeanors related to the accident's aftermath, according to court documents and an official. Their court dates are April 20.

A citation accuses Mendys of failing to report Wood’s crash and helping her flee the scene and into a nearby building out of the site of police. And police allege McGurt drove Wood away in his pickup truck.

Both men face obstruction of justice charges. Mendys is also accused of a passenger’s failure to give information following an accident, while McGurt is accused of being an accessory after the fact, court records show.

Freeman said in an interview Wednesday the additional citations came about from Raleigh police “following up on leads that came to light as they continue to investigate the accident.”

An attorney for Mendys didn't immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment. Voting records identify a Ryan Scott McGuirt as living at the same street and address number listed for McGurt in the court records. Attempts to reach McGuirt by text and email weren't immediately successful.

In court, Wood said she regretted that the men also had been charged.

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