Ventura Mayor Gregory Carson pleaded no contest to drunk-driving charges Monday and was sentenced to five days of community service on a labor crew--either removing graffiti or cleaning up beaches or freeways.
Carson, who was arrested after his 1989 Isuzu Trooper rolled off the Ventura Freeway during the pre-dawn hours of Oct. 9, was sentenced by Ventura County Municipal Judge John E. Dobroth after entering a no contest plea to charges of driving under the influence and driving with a blood-alcohol content greater than the legal limit.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 10, 1993 Ventura West Edition Metro Part B Page 5 Column 1 Metro Desk 2 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong information--An article Tuesday incorrectly reported the outcome of Ventura Mayor Greg Carson's drunk-driving case. Carson pleaded no contest to driving under the influence. In exchange for that plea, prosecutors dropped a second charge of driving with a blood alcohol content of greater than .08%.
He was given a choice of spending two days in jail, but chose the community service option. He will be assigned to work five days on a labor crew that will either remove graffiti or clean up beaches or freeways in the county, said Calvin Remington, deputy director for the Corrections Services Agency.
Dobroth also fined the mayor $1,550, placed him on three years' probation and stripped him of his driving privileges for three months--the same sentence commonly given to other first-time offenders convicted on the same counts.
Carson's plea of no contest is the legal equivalent of a guilty plea. But the mayor did not comment Monday on why he chose that plea over pleading guilty or challenging the charge. When asked outside the courtroom why he entered the plea, he said: "Because I wanted to move ahead and I didn't want to have a trial."
He will be eligible to have his driving license reinstated by completing alcohol-abuse classes, Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher S. Harman said.
The mayor quickly left the courtroom, only stopping to pick up some post-sentencing forms from the court clerk's office.
Carson wasn't represented by an attorney during his court hearing, but did have several friends at his side, including Ventura City Manager John Baker and Ventura businessman Chuck Smith.
"Greg was going to court, and I thought it would be nice for me to be there," Baker said.
Carson said later Monday that he accepts full responsibility for his actions, but believes some folks have been overly critical of him.
"I'm sick of it all," he said of the publicity surrounding his case. "I think it's unfair that they treat me so harshly. I guess that's the stigma that comes with a DUI."
Prosecutors said Carson had a blood-alcohol level of .10% when his vehicle went off the freeway. A person is legally drunk in California with a level of .08%.
Carson suffered a gash to his head from the crash. No one else was injured, and Carson has said he hopes to use the incident to illustrate how dangerous drinking and driving can be.
But Remington of the Corrections Services Agency said the mayor is not eligible to work off his community service through any type of alcohol-abuse public-awareness campaign.
He said the agency hopes to know what Carson's exact duties will be in the work-release program within a week.
"With work release, we just don't allow a lot of flexibility," Remington said. "It certainly means a high-profile person can't choose an assignment that someone else on work release ordinarily would not have the option for."
Officials stressed that Carson's assignment would require the mayor to use more brawn than brain. The only offenders not required to do manual labor are those with physical disabilities, they said.
"It's eight hours of hard work for five days," prosecutor Harman said.
When he begins his court-ordered work, Carson will be taking part in a program that provided 180,000 hours of labor to beautifying the county last year.
Remington said 4,200 offenders were assigned to the work-release program in 1992, contributing $765,000 worth of labor at a minimum-wage rate.
"We feel it's really part of holding offenders accountable to the community," Remington said. "It is a way of paying back the community for the cost of crime, the cost of arrest and processing a person through the criminal-justice system."
Times staff writer Peggy Lee contributed to this story.