Former Duke student Lee Royster has been sentenced to five months in prison for driving while impaired, resulting in the death of classmate Matthew Grape.
Royster pleaded guilty to felony death by vehicle at a hearing Nov. 16. Royster was driving the vehicle intoxicated with Grape in the passenger seat when the accident occurred at 2:40 a.m. Sept. 15, 2011. The felony indictment was issued by a Durham County grand jury last November.
Grape’s mother Linda said the Duke community did not support her family, including her older son, Peter Grape, Trinity ’08. At least 20 Duke students, including members of Alpha Delta Phi fraternity, of which Grape, his brother Peter and Royster were members, filed into the Durham County courtroom to support Royster, Linda Grape added.
“Who was there to support our family, especially my older son, who is a member of the alleged fraternity?” Grape wrote in an email Sunday. “My dead son’s life has been trivialized. Is this how the Duke community supports a loyal family?”
Following his five months of incarceration, Royster will have 60 months of supervised probation. As part of the terms of his probation, Royster’s driver’s license will be suspended, and he will be subjected to random intoxication tests—any level of intoxication is considered a violation of probation.
He was also sentenced to 300 hours of community service. He will also be expected to educate other college students and high school students about the dangers of drinking and driving. Royster must also pay $32,538.22 in restitution by Nov. 16, 2017, five years after he pled guilty to the charges, to complete his probation.
Felony death by vehicle—a Class E felony defined under North Carolina state law as an impaired driver unintentionally causing the death of another person when impairment is deemed to be the proximate cause of death—can result in 15 to 31 months in prison or supervised probation, according to North Carolina sentencing guidelines.
Assistant District Attorney Dale Morrill, the prosecutor in the case, and Bill Thomas, Royster’s defense attorney, could not be reached for comment.
The accident happened when Royster was driving 65 mph—30 mph above the speed limit—on Academy Road when the vehicle veered into the opposite lane and then off the road. It eventually struck a tree before rolling down an embankment and landing on its roof. Grape was pronounced dead at the scene. The probable cause of death was found to be blunt force trauma to the head, according to the report by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Two other fatal accidents, one in 1992 and the other in 1997, have occurred at the sharp curve in the road. The earlier accidents also involved impaired driving. The North Carolina Department of Transportation decided to add more signs along this stretch in October 2011.
Royster was taken to the Duke University Hospital for his injuries, where his blood alcohol level was recorded at 0.281. The legal limit in North Carolina is .08. He was released later that morning.
Royster was no longer enrolled as a student at Duke as of March, following the felony charge.
Linda Grape noted that no Duke administrators attended the hearing, which she found disappointing.
Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said he was out of town and other administrators were unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts.
Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek said she did not know about the hearing until that morning, by which time her calendar for the day was already filled.
Linda Grape said she hopes students will learn from her son’s tragic death and realize the dangers of drunk driving.
“I hope that students can fully appreciate that there are consequences for their actions,” Grape said.