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BELMONT, N.C. – Almost 10 months after a car chase ended with the deaths of a former Belmont, N.C., mayor and his girlfriend, a Lancaster man pleaded guilty to the crimes in a Gaston County courtroom last week.
Lester Saunders Norman Jr., 41, pleaded guilty to a long list of charges Tuesday, Dec. 4, in the deaths of former Belmont Mayor Kevin Loftin, 56, and Donna Jean Deitz, 60, said Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell. Norman entered the plea in Gaston Superior Court.
The charges include two counts of second-degree murder, three counts of assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of failure to stop for a red light, speeding, two counts of resisting a public officer, failure to reduce speed, two counts of reckless driving, driving while license revoked, felony death by vehicle, driving while intoxicated and assault with a deadly weapon on a government official, Bell said.
Norman was sentenced to 25 to 31 years in prison, though he must first serve two years on federal firearms charges. Norman was on probation for those charges at the time of the crash.
“He must spend at least 25 years in prison and that starts after he serves his federal time,” Bell said. “He will be transferred to a state prison. If he acts like a choir boy, then he’ll probably serve the 25 years, but if he screws up in prison, he could serve 31.”
Norman was arrested after leading police on a car chase Feb. 22 that killed Loftin and Deitz and injured three others.
The car chase began at 10:12 p.m. as officers were conducting a random license checkpoint on the I-85 entrance and exit ramp at exit 26, according to a Belmont Police Department news release from February.
A black 2001 Acura SUV approached the checkpoint, but then accelerated and tried to strike officers at the checkpoint, the release said.
Officers chased the Acura as it headed north on I-85, though the driver quickly exited at the next exit ramp, exit 27. The car then sped through a red light at the intersection of Park Street and Wilkinson Boulevard, where it struck a 1999 Audi, Belmont police said. The Audi spun out of control and hit a telephone pole.
Norman, who was later identified as the driver of the Acura, ran from the scene, but was captured by officers after a short foot chase, the release said.
Loftin, the driver of the Audi, and Deitz, his passenger, were both pronounced dead at the scene.
During the collision, a 2006 PT Cruiser was also hit by Norman’s SUV, the release said. The driver and passenger of that car, along with a 25-year-old male passenger in Norman’s SUV, were all taken by ambulance to Gaston Memorial Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Norman did not have a driver’s license and had recently been released from a North Carolina prison, where he served time on a gun charge, Belmont Police Chief Charlie Franklin said Feb. 23.
Franklin also said Norman told arresting officers he lived with his brother at a home in the 7000 block of Twelve Mile Creek Road in Lancaster.
Norman has been jailed in Gaston County on a $1 million bond since the crash.
A plea deal was offered to Norman earlier this year, though he decided to enter a not-guilty plea June 4. Bell said Norman changed his plea last week, about a month before he was set to go to trial.
Bell wasn’t sure why Norman changed his plea, but said it may be family-related.
“I’m not allowed to ask him (Norman), but his mother is in very bad health and maybe he didn’t want his mother to see him go to trial,” Bell said. “I will give him credit for that, true or not.”
Several family members of the victims attended the sentencing, including Deitz’s sister.
“We were ready to go to trial, but this gives closure and finality to the victims’ families, which is always good because they don’t have to relive it in court,” Bell said. “That’s always good.”
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416