Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Family on mend after a close call


Chamroeun Theam has pleaded not guilty to operating under the influence and other charges. Police say he plowed his car into a mother and two children as they crossed a Lowell street. (David H. Brow/ Lowell Sun via Associated Press)

By John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / November 24, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Kin say DUI suspect survived Cambodia terror

LOWELL - A bruised and frightened 4-year-old boy sought comfort yesterday in the arms of his grandmother, who held him close 12 hours after an alleged drunk driver plowed into a double stroller carrying him and his younger sister as they were being pushed in a crosswalk.

The boy, Jonathan Dickie Jr., suffered the most serious injuries when his family was hit by the car, but he has been released from the hospital, as were his mother and sister.

“He could have been dead,’’ said the grandmother, Carol Dickie, as she held him outside her house in Lowell. “I am so glad that the Lord was watching over him. I believe someone up there pushed him out of the way and made sure nothing happened to him, because he could have been dead.’’

The mother, Nina Wilkin, 25, was crossing Fletcher Street about 5:30 p.m. on Sunday with Jonathan and his sister, Katelyn, 2. Two police officers, who were stopped at a red light, saw a car being driven by Chamroeun Theam plow into the family, authorities said.

The boy was knocked out of his stroller, and his mother and sister were knocked to the ground. All three were rushed to Lowell General Hospital.

With the help of a Cambodian interpreter, Theam pleaded not guilty to operating under the influence, second offense operating while under the influence, causing serious injury, and other charges. Judge Neil J. Walker set bail at $5,000 cash.

With tears in their eyes, two of Theam’s daughters and a daughter-in-law watched the court proceeding. Afterward, they spoke with reporters and said Theam has refused entreaties to get help for depression.

They said he grew up in Cambodia, survived the terror years of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, and remains haunted by that experience and often has nightmares.

“He needs help,’’ said Sochann Chea, his daughter-in-law. “He doesn’t want it.’’

Chea said the driver’s extended family is concerned for the health of the mother and her two children. Chea said Theam’s family - he has three sons and two daughters - does not want to see him driving any time soon.

“We don’t want anything like this to happen again,’’ Chea said. “We feel very bad, and we hope the family is OK.’’

In a report filed in court, Lowell police officers who witnessed the crash said Wilkin was in the crosswalk and was hurrying to get across Fletcher Street when the light turned green.

Although the family was still in the intersection, police said in the report, Theam accelerated and drove his Dodge Neon directly into them without slowing.

Police said the car struck Nina Wilkin, “throwing her into the air over the windshield, hitting the ground on the other side of the street.’’

The car struck the double stroller, police said, causing the boy to be “ejected out of the stroller and onto the Neon, bouncing off the Neon and onto the pavement.’’

Theam’s blood alcohol level was 0.26 according to the police report. The legal limit is 0.08. Police said he failed other sobriety tests. Citing him as an immediate threat to public safety, the Registry of Motor Vehicles revoked his license following the crash.

“He appeared to be completely unconcerned about what was going on around him,’’ Officer Neils Henry Christiansen wrote of Theam. “He sat in his motor vehicle talking to himself and yelling at no one in particular.’’

Theam was convicted of drunken driving in 1994 in Wisconsin, according to Lowell police. Details of that case were not immediately available.

He also has had two crashes and has been cited at least five times for driving violations since the 1994 drunken driving case, according to the Registry. He is due back in court Dec. 18.

John Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com.

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