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Racing legend Al Unser Jr. convicted of second DUI in five years

April 11, 2012|John M. Glionna
  • Former racing star Al Unser Jr. pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and drag racing in New Mexico.
Former racing star Al Unser Jr. pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated… (Reed Saxon / Associated…)

LAS VEGAS -- Maybe legendary race car driver Al Unser Jr. thought he saw a raised checkered flag in the dead of night on that lonely stretch of New Mexico freeway: Speeds were high, discretion apparently tossed to the wind.

But with his second DUI conviction on Wednesday in less than five years, it’s Unser’s reputation that’s now seemingly a bit more checkered.

The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and drag racing, charges that stemmed from a September incident near Albuquerque, authorities say.

Unser, 49, a scion of the legendary Albuquerque Unser racing family, entered his guilty plea the day before he was scheduled to be tried on aggravated DUI, drag racing and reckless driving charges. He was sentenced to three months behind bars, but a judge reduced the penalty to a year of supervised probation.

Unser attorney Sam Bregman told the Associated Press that his client apologized for the lapse in judgment. “He's taking steps to make sure it doesn't happen again,” he said.

A national spokeswoman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving said Wednesday in an interview that the courts were not sending the right message in allowing Unser to go without jail time.

“Celebrities and sports figures need to be treated just like any other driver,” spokeswoman Anna Duerr told the Los Angeles Times. “Whether it’s New Mexico or anywhere else in the nation, drunk driving kills. Drunk drivers kill 10,000 people each year and injure 350,000. This is serious.”

New Mexico state police in September spotted Unser’s white 2011 Chevrolet Suburban racing another car about 3 a.m. Both vehicles exceeded speeds of 100 mph in a posted 60-mph speed area, authorities said.

In 2007, Unser pleaded no contest to DUI charges following a crash on a New Mexico freeway. In that incident, the race driver’s blood-alcohol content was three times the legal limit and he failed field sobriety tests, police said.

He eventually lost his driver’s license for 90 days, paid a $1,000 fine and attended classes that focused on the dangers of drunk driving. His lawyer at the time said Unser had stopped drinking and was attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Unser won at Indianapolis in 1992 and 1994 before retiring from the sport. His father, Al Unser Sr., won back-to-back wins at the Indianapolis 500 in 1970 and 1971. He also took the checkered flag at Indy in 1978 and 1987. Unser’s uncle Bobby won at Indianapolis in 1968, 1975 and 1981.

In the September DUI incident, authorities said, Unser and an unidentified driver in a black sedan were traveling so fast as they weaved across lanes that other cars were forced to slam on their brakes.

Police stopped Unser while the other car got away. Authorities say Unser smelled of alcohol, his speech was slurred and his blood-alcohol content was twice the legal limit of 0.08. Unser reportedly told officers that he was racing the other car at the time and “you caught the slower driver.”

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