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Guilt Feeling Worse Than Jail, Says Drunk Driver

December 28, 1985|JAN KLUNDER | Times Staff Writer

Although Stuart Dobener was ordered to spend one year in County Jail, the 21-year-old Canoga Park resident said that is not the worst punishment he faces for having killed a good friend while driving drunk.

"It's something that's very hard to live with. I wish I had died so I don't have to live with this every day," Dobener said Friday after he was placed on five years' probation and ordered to spend the year in jail beginning Feb. 27.

During a night of drinking with two friends, Dobener crashed into a parked car on Valley Circle Boulevard in Woodland Hills, killing one passenger, Stacey Catron, 23, and injuring Catron's brother, Jack Prins, 21.

According to court records, the men had been drinking heavily and were driving in Dobener's car to a restaurant in Calabasas for a final hour of drinking when the accident occurred about 1 a.m. on Nov. 17, 1984.

Victim Wanted to Drive

Prins testified at a preliminary hearing that, shortly before the accident, his brother had urged Dobener not to drive. Catron wanted to drive because he felt that he was more sober, the brother said. But Dobener objected to letting anyone else get behind the wheel of his automobile, Prins recalled.

Catron relented and agreed to ride along, in large part because he was concerned about his younger brother's safety, Prins testified.

"There was no way my brother was going to let me go alone," Prins testified. "He wouldn't let me drive with Stuart if Stuart was intoxicated and driving. He wouldn't let me go alone with him."

The brothers had different last names because Catron changed his after a divorce in the family.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Deborah S. Elliot argued that Dobener should be sentenced to state prison, where his maximum stay would have been three years.

Contributed to Own Death

But defense attorney Harland W. Braun asked that Dobener be sentenced to 90 days in County Jail. Braun maintained that the victim contributed to his own death because he and Prins supplied liquor to Dobener, who was 20 then.

Van Nuys Superior Court Judge James A. Albracht agreed that the victim had assumed a certain measure of risk by voluntarily riding in Dobener's car.

Dobener, who pleaded no contest on Nov. 5 to vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol, said he has not driven since the accident and feels uneasy riding in cars. He said he occasionally sees Prins, who has moved to Washington, D.C., but has difficulty looking him in the eyes.

"I feel such a guilt in my soul that I often go through days of having blank thought, for my life can never be the same," Dobener said in a written statement to his probation officer.

"I will never drink and drive and hope to stop others from doing so, so that what happened to me does not happen again. I feel whatever punishment comes my way I deserve. I pray to God to forgive me and feel I am worthy."

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