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Drunken driver William Ham sent back to prison

TAMPA — William Edward Ham made attempts to do right after he left prison last year.

He got a manager job at a towing company, attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and reconnected with his 12-year-old daughter.

But he didn't shake his old demon, alcohol abuse. On Tuesday, the addiction that led him to prison landed him there again.

This month, a police officer found Ham passed out drunk behind the wheel of a car idling at an intersection.

Ham, 31, wasn't supposed to be drinking or driving. Ten years ago, he drove drunk and killed a woman. In addition to a 10-year prison sentence and four years and seven months of probation to follow, a judge ordered him not to drink alcohol and revoked his driver's license for life.

Ham obtained a license anyway, thanks to an oversight by the state Motor Vehicles Department, which a decade ago failed to enter the lifetime revocation into its computer system.

The Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office is investigating whether Ham committed a crime by getting the license.

When he was arrested March 4 for driving under the influence, his blood-alcohol content registered at 0.18 percent, more than double the level at which the state presumes a person impaired.

Ham admitted Tuesday to violating his DUI-manslaughter probation and pleaded no contest to DUI.

His attorney, Timothy Taylor, said Ham needed treatment for alcoholism and depression, not more prison.

"He obviously has an alcohol problem," Taylor said. "He's not minimizing what he's done. He needs help, and he wants to reach out for help."

But prosecutor Barbara Coleman said Ham's actions didn't indicate he was sincere about rehabilitation.

"Mr. Ham," she said, "is a danger to society."

Sandra Allen's voice trembled as she spoke to the man who caused her 36-year-old daughter's fatal accident in October 1998. Her daughter, also named Sandra Allen, hit a power pole. About a block away from the crash site, the electricity went out at her mother's Riverview home. The elder Allen remembers wondering what had happened.

Now the pain felt fresh all over again.

"Are you happy with yourself?" she asked Ham. "Did you learn a lesson? No."

Ham did not return her gaze.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Perry said he had to balance Ham's needs with the public's safety. Perry felt his only choice, he said, was to send Ham back to prison for the remainder of his total initial sentence.

Perry also ordered a permanent license revocation.

"We'll try that again," he said.

Outside the courtroom, a victim's advocate explained to the dead woman's mother and grandmother that Ham will spend another 31/2 to four years behind bars.

Her eyes wet, Sandra Allen said, "That's still not enough."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Drunken driver William Ham sent back to prison 03/24/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 26, 2009 1:47pm]
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