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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Driver Convicted in '89 Deaths of 3 Teens Faces New Charges

Courts: Diane Mannes could serve one year in jail if convicted of drunk driving and public intoxication.

November 28, 2000|TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Diane Mannes spent two years in prison for killing three teenagers while driving drunk in 1989, and now she faces up to a year in jail after two recent arrests that again involved alcohol.

Mannes, 45, missed a Monday court date for a public intoxication charge, and authorities issued an arrest warrant. The charge stemmed from an Oct. 29 incident in which patrons of a Ventura bar on Spinnaker Drive called police after Mannes slid off a bar stool and collapsed on the floor.

She was taken to Ventura County Medical Center, where she was admitted for intoxication and cited for public drunkenness, police said.

That came two months after Mannes was arrested in Camarillo on suspicion of drunk driving. Authorities said Mannes had a .28% blood-alcohol content when she taken into custody about 1 a.m. Aug. 11 on Ponderosa Drive. She is scheduled to appear in court today on that charge, but prosecutors are not sure if she will appear.

"If she does, she'll have to deal with the arrest warrant first," Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Greg Totten said.

Despite prior convictions for drunk driving, including her vehicular homicide case in 1989, both cases have been filed as misdemeanors, and collectively they could result in a year in jail if Mannes is convicted, Totten said.

"It's one of the frustrations of being a prosecutor," Totten said. "Our job is to operate within the laws the state Legislature gives us. This situation unfortunately prevents us from charging her with a felony."

Mannes was charged with felony drunk driving and second-degree murder after running her Ford Bronco into five teenagers as they walked along the Conejo Grade in search of help for a flat tire in March 1989. Three boys were killed and two others were seriously injured. Mannes' blood-alcohol content was .20%.

A jury convicted her on a drunk-driving charge but deadlocked on the murder count. Prosecutors sought to retry Mannes, but she pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of vehicular manslaughter in November 1989. Though she served two years on the drunk-driving conviction, she was sentenced to probation on the manslaughter plea.

Mannes violated probation in 1994, admitting in court that she drank alcohol, falsified Alcoholics Anonymous attendance cards and failed to attend the group's meetings.

She was sentenced to 44 months in prison but was released two years later. Her driving privilege was reinstated in 1997.

With that kind of record, prosecutors said, Mannes should be charged with a felony for allegedly driving drunk again. But a glitch in the law prevents authorities from charging her with anything stiffer than a misdemeanor.

Totten said that if a manslaughter conviction is at least 10 years old, it can't be used as a prior offense. "In this case, the manslaughter occurred in 1989, just past the 10-year cutoff," Totten said. "So we cannot file as a felony under state law."

Each of the two counts that Mannes currently faces carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail. If filed as a felony, the drunk-driving charge would have carried a three-year penalty, prosecutors said.

"Obviously, if she had been able to be charged with a felony, she would be going back to prison," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Barbara Kim, who is prosecuting the case. "So it's really unfortunate because we feel our hands are really tied here. There's nothing we can do unless we start lobbying the Legislature to change the law. And that's something we plan on looking into."

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