A Jackson County man pleaded guilty Thursday in Haywood County Superior Court to killing one person and injuring two others on July 21, 2021, after he intentionally drove into oncoming traffic, District Attorney Ashley Hornsby Welch said.
Fleeing law enforcement officers and, his lawyer said in court, while “strung out on methamphetamine” after abusing the drug for days on end, Dalton Suttles’ westbound vehicle slammed head-on into an eastbound pickup truck on U.S. 23/74.
Zenen Lopez-Guzman, 46, died in the wreck just inside Jackson County near the Haywood County line.
District Attorney Ashley Hornsby Welch said that Suttles, 21, pleaded guilty to:
• Second-degree murder.
• Flee to elude.
• Trafficking in methamphetamine from 28 grams up to 200 grams.
Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Bradley B. Letts consolidated the charge of flee to elude with the second-degree murder charge for the purposes of sentencing. He imposed a 194-month minimum prison sentence up to a 245-month maximum sentence.
At the expiration of that prison term, Suttles will serve an additional, consecutive prison sentence of 70 to 93 months for trafficking in methamphetamine.
Additionally, Judge Letts ordered Suttles to pay two fines, $1,000 for second-degree murder and $50,000 for trafficking, as well as $13,321 in restitution.
Judge Letts thanked N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper Samantha Hyatt “personally for her excellent work.” Other agencies involved were Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and Waynesville Police Department.
“He didn’t just make poor decisions, he made malicious decisions,” Assistant District Attorney Jeff Jones said to Judge Letts about Suttles prior to sentencing. Jones co-prosecuted the case with Assistant District Attorney Chris Matheson. The event started to unfold after Haywood County Detective Micah Phillips spotted Dalton Suttles, wanted on outstanding felony warrants, driving a Chevrolet Tahoe on N.C. 209. The vehicle has a fictitious plate.
Detective Phillips attempted a traffic stop on U.S 23/74. Suttles fled, driving at speeds that at times exceeded 100 mph. On the highway, Suttles drove into oncoming traffic, weaving around several cars before slamming into the pickup truck. In court and before sentencing, he apologized to the surviving victims and family members of Lopez-Guzman.
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