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Wrong-way driver gets 25 years for drunk driving accident

FARMINGTON — A wrong-way driver is being sent to prison for a drunk-driving accident that caused the death of another driver. Another man will go to prison for leaving the scene of an accident after striking and killing a pedestrian in an unrelated accident.

On Friday, Michael Bruce Whitaker, 46, of Irondale pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and second-degree murder in connection with the death of Nick Layton.

Following the plea agreement worked out between his attorney and the prosecutor’s office, Circuit Court Judge Kenneth W. Pratte sentenced Whitaker to 25 years in prison. He will have to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence before he is considered for parole.

The plea came two weeks after the first time Whitaker was in court to plead guilty. During the plea hearing, with many family members of Layton in attendance, Whitaker decided he didn’t want to plead guilty to the charges.

On Friday, Whitaker said he was ready to plead guilty because he wanted to make it as easy on everyone as possible.

When asked what he had done to commit the offense of driving while intoxicated, Whitaker said he was denied a room at a motel and fell asleep at the wheel. The judge, not satisfied with his answer, asked the man if he had operated a vehicle under the influence of alcohol and Whitaker said “yes.”

He was charged with felony DWI and as a persistent offender because he is on probation for second-degree assault for driving while intoxicated in St. Louis County in 2005 and causing an injury to a person.

Judge Pratte then asked the man if he had collided head-on with a vehicle, causing the death of Layton, and he said “yes.”

Several of Layton’s family members and friends were present for the hearing but no one spoke. A fundraiser is scheduled all day today at Bismarck School to benefit the Nick Layton Foundation.

According to police reports, the accident occurred on March 27, 2008 at U.S. 67 north of Hedgeapple Lane as Whitaker was driving north in the southbound lanes. He crashed head-on into a vehicle driven by Layton, who died hours later at Jefferson Hospital.

When the state trooper asked Whitaker how much he had to drink, Whitaker said, “More than enough.” Whitaker’s blood alcohol level was 0.174. The legal limit is .08.

Layton’s wife, Shelley worked at the hospital in Jefferson County where Layton was taken that night. In a letter to the judge last year, she described what a good father, husband, friend and person he was. They have two young daughters.

She said when she was just 9 years old, Layton told her he was going to marry her and be with her forever.

Layton, 29, grew up in Bismarck but was living in Desloge. He was a journeyman carpenter and steel estimator. He was also a deacon at Desloge First Baptist Church.

The trial had been scheduled in June.

On Thursday, in an unrelated case, Mark A. Smith, 22, of Bismarck, was sentenced to nine years in prison for Washington County charges of involuntary manslaughter and leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident.

Smith’s attorney had asked Judge David L. Hoven to consider probation while Washington County Prosecuting Attorney John Rupp asked for an 11-year sentence, which was the maximum sentence Smith could have received.

Rupp said Judge Hoven pointed out Smith was currently on probation for driving while intoxicated in Madison County. The judge also took into consideration that Smith didn’t slow down and went home after the crash and later began to pack his bags as if he was going to flee.

According to police reports, on Aug. 18, 2007, Kevin J. Fenwick, 32, of Potosi, was apparently walking on New Diggins Road near Cook Subdivision Road when he was struck by a red 1998 Chevrolet pickup that was driven by Smith. The truck dragged Fenwick approximately 400 yards before he rolled into a ditch. Smith left the scene.

The Patrol believes the accident occurred about 2 a.m. and the man was found at 7 a.m. by a passing motorist who notified authorities. The man was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol Major Crash Scene began an investigation of how the accident occurred. Smith’s vehicle was reportedly recovered on the same day.

Teresa Ressel is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 179 or at

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