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Actor Garrison's sentencing delayed

A judge orders the `Prison Break' star to first undergo a 90-day evaluation in DUI case.

August 03, 2007|Tami Abdollah | Times Staff Writer

Choking back tears, actor Lane Garrison on Thursday apologized to the family of a Beverly Hills High School student who was killed when Garrison crashed his sport utility vehicle into a tree while driving drunk.

Garrison, who pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter in connection with the Dec. 2 accident, looked directly at the parents of 17-year-old Vahagn Setian as he spoke during his sentencing hearing. Karen and Ida Setian were seated in the jury box in a courtroom packed with family and friends of the victim and the defendant.

"I relive that night every day and think about the bad decisions I made," said Garrison, 27, the onetime star of the Fox television drama "Prison Break." "No family should have to sit where you are sitting.... I just want to apologize to you guys and the court, and to every young person that's here."

But when it was his turn to speak, Karen Setian, the victim's father, was resolute. The day before would have been his son's 18th birthday.

"He was the light in our lives," Setian said. "He was our only child, my only son, my heir -- and in an instant, he was taken away."

Setian asked the judge to punish Garrison, who recently taped a public service announcement imploring people not to drive drunk, for his recklessness.

"In mere seconds our hearts and souls were ripped apart and our lives changed forever," Setian said. "There can be no doubt ... he is reckless, he is careless, and above all, he is selfish."

Following the emotionally charged hearing, Beverly Hills Superior Court Judge Elden S. Fox decided he needed more information about Garrison's psychological condition and ordered him to undergo a 90-day "diagnostic" evaluation before imposing a sentence.

Fox said he also wanted to make sure that Garrison receives the same treatment as noncelebrities.

Garrison, who had been free on $100,000 bail, was held in custody without bail after the hearing.

In May, the actor pleaded guilty to one felony count of driving under the influence, causing injury to multiple victims and one misdemeanor count of furnishing alcohol to a minor.

He also admitted causing great bodily injury and death and driving with a blood-alcohol level of more than 0.15%.

He could face up to six years and eight months in prison.

Garrison crashed his 2001 Land Rover into a tree on South Beverly Drive near Olympic Boulevard just before midnight Dec. 2, killing Setian and seriously injuring two other passengers, Michelle Ohana and Chen Sagi, both 15.

Garrison's lawyer, Harland Braun, said Garrison met the teens, who were fans, at a grocery store and accompanied them to a party, where he had one drink.

About an hour later, the actor left the party to meet a female friend and the teens asked if they could go with him, and he agreed, Braun said.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph Markus and the two surviving passengers, who spoke in court Wednesday, described a different set of circumstances that night.

Markus said Garrison, then 26, had met Setian, Ohana and Sagi in line at a grocery store, where they were buying cookies, marshmallows and soda for a high school party. Ohana and Sagi said that Garrison, after learning they were going to a party, offered to buy them alcohol.

"Everybody in the courtroom saw the victims, saw how young they look," Markus said. "He chose, as a 26-year-old man, to stand in line, to buy them alcohol, to play up who he is."

Markus said the four went to the party where, after about half an hour, Garrison had drunk enough vodka to raise his blood-alcohol level to 0.2%, more than twice the legal limit. Garrison then drove the three teens back to the market for more alcohol.

Accusing Garrison of "hiding behind his celebrity status," Markus urged the judge to consider Garrison's case not as a typical case of drunk driving but rather as a case of exceptional recklessness.

"This man decides after 30 minutes to go back and buy more alcohol, when kids are asking him, 'Can you drive? Are you OK to drive?' They all remember the statement [he made], 'I'm not from California, I'm from Texas. We can handle our liquor.' "

In court Thursday, Braun said Garrison had told him the teens had initially asked the actor to buy them the alcohol, that he was double-parked outside the party and about to leave for a date, when he was asked again to go back to the store.

Authorities said that Garrison was traveling more than 40 mph in a 25-mph zone the night of the accident.

In addition to having a blood-alcohol level more than twice the state's legal limit of 0.08%, Garrison also tested positive for cocaine, they said.

Prosecutors rejected the recommendation of Beverly Hills police to add a gross-negligence enhancement to the manslaughter charge, which could have doubled Garrison's prison term.

Braun asked that the actor receive a sentence of probation and up to a year in County Jail.

"Otherwise-good people are drunk drivers, and every day drunk drivers, but for the grace of God, could kill somebody," Braun said. "You don't have to be evil, you don't have to be deranged to kill someone, all you have to be is careless."

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