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Actor declines to plead not guilty in fatal crash

Lane Garrison feels a sense of responsibility; the question is level of culpability, lawyer says.

March 09, 2007|Tami Abdollah | Times Staff Writer

Actor Lane Garrison will accept responsibility for the death of a Beverly Hills High School student, his lawyer said in court Thursday as the television star was arraigned on charges of vehicular manslaughter in a fatal car crash.

Garrison, 26, has also been charged with two felony drunk driving charges and a misdemeanor count of furnishing alcohol to a minor in the Dec. 2 accident.

Garrison, who co-starred in Fox television's "Prison Break" until his character was killed off Oct. 2, did not enter a plea in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Garrison was driving his 2001 Land Rover when it plowed into a tree on South Beverly Drive near Olympic Boulevard shortly before midnight. The crash killed Vahagn Setian, 17, a popular Beverly Hills High School student, and injured two other passengers, Michelle Ohana and Chen Sagi, both 15.

In court Thursday, Judge Elden S. Fox asked Garrison if he wanted to plead not guilty.

"No, your honor," said Garrison, who wore a brown pinstriped suit and lavender shirt.

Defense attorney Harland Braun broke in: "Mr. Garrison feels a deep sense of responsibility.... The real issue is the level of culpability."

Braun said later Thursday, "If the D.A. and I can agree on a proper plea to the particular count or counts, then he'll plead to them."

He said his client feels "terrible" about the accident. "He may go to prison and he's willing to accept that," Braun said.

Garrison posted $100,000 bail, was booked at the Beverly Hills Police Department and released. The arraignment was delayed to April 11. He faces up to six years and eight months in state prison if convicted.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph Markus had recommended a $200,000 bond, citing Garrison's potential danger to the community because of drunk-driving charges.

Fox ordered Garrison released on the condition that he refrains from driving, drinking alcohol or going to bars or other establishments where alcohol is the chief item of sale.

"The Setian family is gratified by the criminal charges brought by the Los Angeles district attorney's office," the family's lawyer, Paul Kiesel, said in a statement. "They have lost their only child due to Lane Garrison's recklessness."

Lawyer Gerald Laderman, representing Ohana, now 16, said his client is "trying to recover from her injuries" and is not yet back in school.

"I'm going to let the system run its course both from a criminal and civil standpoint," Laderman said. "My client sustained serious injuries, and she's going to pursue her civil remedies. It could mean a lawsuit, but we're not there yet."

Beverly Hills police said Garrison had a blood-alcohol level of more than twice the state's legal limit of 0.08%, in addition to cocaine in his system. He was driving more than 40 mph in a 25 mph zone, according to police.

Prosecutors rejected the recommendation by Beverly Hills police for vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney. The charge of gross negligence would have doubled the maximum prison term, she said.

At Beverly Hills High School, students said news of the charges was slowly percolating through the halls.

"I think he's absolutely downright guilty," said Jonny Christensen, 18, who said he was Setian's best friend. "His level of responsibility is that he's an adult, and just like any other adult, he should have said.... 'I can't do this.' "

Garrison has a part in the film "Shooter," which is scheduled for release later this month.


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