Gastonia, N.C. — A Gastonia man who turns 21 on Wednesday will likely spend his birthday in jail while facing a second-degree murder charge related to a fatal drunken driving collision on Saturday.

 

Prosecutors made good on a pledge to up the charges on Clarence Gilberty Bailey III on Monday from felony death by vehicle to second-degree murder without regard. Bailey, who saw District Court Judge Michael Lands increase his bond from $270,000 to $350,000 during a first appearance on Monday, now has a hold on his release because of the new charge.

 

Bailey was driving a pickup truck when it collided head-on with a four-door sedan driven by 58-year-old Steven Lewis Ward of Gastonia, Gastonia Police say. The impact knocked Bailey's truck on its side and crushed Ward's vehicle. Ward was pronounced dead on the scene.

 

Bailey reportedly tried to flee on foot before a witness to the wreck chased him down and persuaded him to return. Bailey appeared conscious and alert as emergency workers loaded him into an ambulance with a stretcher after the wreck. He was treated at CaroMont Regional Medical Center for minor injuries before being taken to jail, according to police.

 

Bailey told police officers incriminating information about his driving habits after the fact, according to what assistant district attorney Beth Stockwell said in court Monday.

 

"It's not unusual for him to drive highly buzzed," she said he told police.

 

Police say Bailey was not only impaired, but also texting at the time of the crash. He refused to take a breath test to determine the alcohol in his system so a magistrate signed a court order requiring him to give a blood sample.

 

It's not the first time Bailey, who turns 21 Wednesday, has been accused of a substance-related crime. He was out on bond facing charges in York County, South Carolina, from December for driving under the influence and in Rock Hill, South Carolina, the following month for cocaine possession.

 

Bailey's grandmother called him a "good kid" who needed help in court Monday.

 

The wreck occurred at 10:04 p.m. Saturday on Robinwood Road in front of Hawks Nest STEAM Academy, about 1.8 miles from Bailey's home.

 

 

 

You can reach Kevin Ellis at 704-869-1823 or on Twitter @TheGazetteKevin.