Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Deputy in crash that killed cyclists faced drunk-driving case in 2001

The Santa Clara County sheriff's deputy who struck and killed two competitive bicyclists Sunday was charged in 2001 in Los Angeles with drunken driving and engaging in an exhibition of speed, court records show.
The two drunken-driving charges against James Council - one count for allegedly being intoxicated and one for having a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit of 0.08 percent - were dismissed by the Los Angeles city attorney's office in a plea deal during the arraignment process, the prosecutor who handled the case said today.
Council, now 27, pleaded guilty only to engaging in a speed exhibition, a misdemeanor. Commissioner Gary Bindman sentenced him to 24 months of probation and fined him $713, including court costs, said Deputy City Attorney Larry Shelley. Shelley said he did not recall the specifics of the case.
According to Shelley and court records, Council's violation occurred Sept. 15, 2001, when he was 20. He was charged Oct. 1 of that year and pleaded guilty 28 days later.
His license was not suspended, and the Department of Motor Vehicles said Council had no other blemishes on his driving record in the past 10 years.
Council was hired as a Santa Clara County sheriff's deputy 18 months ago. On Sunday, he was 4 1/2 hours into a scheduled 12 1/2-hour shift when his cruiser crossed over the center line on Stevens Canyon Boulevard in Cupertino at 10:25 a.m., striking three competitive bicyclists head-on and killing two of them.
Two men who came upon the accident scene a short time after the crash said Council had said he must have fallen asleep at the wheel and didn't know what had happened.
Council is on paid leave from the Sheriff's Department while the California Highway Patrol investigates the crash. He did not return a telephone call seeking comment, and his attorney did not immediately return a message left at her office today. The CHP said Council has not yet agreed to be interviewed.
Sgt. Don Morrissey, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Department, said he could not comment on the drunken driving case because it was a personnel matter, but added, "I'm sure we were aware of it."
Morrissey said the agency does exhaustive background checks before hiring deputies, and that driving records are "one of the main reasons for disqualifying people" from consideration.
"It's a case-to-case basis," Morrissey said. "We like to look at the backgrounds from 360 degrees. We look at all angles and all perspectives.
"Let's say an applicant has four tickets from age 16 to age 19," he added. "Is that going to exclude him if he's 25 and is applying for a job? We look for patterns of undesirable behavior."
Morrissey said he could not legally comment on whether the department had tested Council's sobriety after the crash because it was a personnel matter. However, Morrissey said, "In incidents like this, we take blood (for drug and alcohol testing). That's our policy. And we're to the letter of our policy right now."
Morrissey said Council is "devastated."
"He's a good guy, a good young man. He has a real strong moral and ethical foundation," Morrissey said. "He's physically fit. He was diligent when I dealt with him in the academy. He was dedicated and he made good decisions.
"The fact of the matter," Morrissey said, "is it was an accident, a terrible accident, and two lives are gone. We can't correct that now. We have deep remorse. I don't know what else to say to the families except that we're deeply saddened by this."
The crash Sunday killed bicyclists Kristy Gough, 30, of San Leandro and Matt Peterson, 29, of San Francisco. The third cyclist who was struck, 20-year-old Christopher Knapp of Germany, was hospitalized at Stanford University Medical Center, where a spokesman said today he was doing well.

No comments: