A Costa Mesa man who suffered brain injuries six years ago when a sport-utility vehicle full of Newport Harbor High School students overturned has been charged with threatening to kill Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona.
Daniel Townsend, 23, was arrested over the weekend after investigators found a newspaper clipping pinned to his bedroom door that showed Carona with a bull's-eye drawn on his forehead, officials said Wednesday.
He pleaded innocent Tuesday to making criminal threats, threatening to kill a public official and interfering with an arrest. He is being held without bail at Central Men's Jail in Santa Ana.
Townsend, who has no record, was first sought by sheriff's deputies Friday in an unrelated matter when someone called to report that he had allegedly made threats to kill a friend's mother in Santa Ana Heights. Deputies could not find him that night.
The next evening, a tipster reported that Townsend had been making threats against Carona. When investigators arrived at Townsend's home in Costa Mesa, they found a recent newspaper article taped to his bedroom door.
Scribbled under the sheriff's photo was a threat: "I'll serve it up to you too, you little [expletive] Mike Carona." An arrow pointed to a bull's-eye on Carona's forehead, authorities alleged.
Townsend's family said Wednesday that he has struggled to rebuild his life since the 1997 accident and that the brain damage he suffered has caused serious emotional problems.
They said they have tried desperately to get treatment for him, from police and other public agencies, but have gotten little or no help.
In a statement released by Townsend's sister, the family said it was "sorry that this has happened.... The family only hopes that people with limited mental capacities will be treated with dignity and respect and that they have access to mental help. Our family hopes Danny will finally receive the treatment that he needs. We will never give up and love him dearly."
It is unclear what connection, if any, Townsend had with Carona.
Townsend's mother has met the sheriff and read his book "Save My Son," which deals with his family's experience with alcoholism.
"My family admires him and thinks he's a great sheriff," sister Denise Townsend said. "He's not the judge. But we believe he will be fair and just" in his handling of Townsend.
Sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said Townsend will be evaluated by mental health professionals. If he is deemed to be mentally ill, he will get the help he needs, Amormino said. In the meantime, keeping him in custody is in the public's best interest, he added.
Townsend was one of 10 youths who piled into a sport-utility vehicle after a night of partying in May 1997. The vehicle flipped and crashed on a sharp turn, killing student Donny Bridgman, leaving Amanda Arthur paralyzed and in a coma and Townsend with brain injuries.
Arthur's situation drew national attention when she awoke 11 weeks later, and her recovery was chronicled in newspapers and a TV network news magazine.
Family members said Townsend never fully recovered for the injuries he suffered in the crash.
Denise Townsend said her brother underwent more than two years of physical and cognitive rehabilitation after the accident. Once he was released from the hospital, he attended classes at the Brain Injury Network, run by Coastline Community College, and also continued therapy elsewhere, his sister said.
Townsend also faces a separate count of making criminal threats for the alleged threat against his friend's mother.