OK, that headline sounded a little too brusque. Obviously, the mayor-elect isn’t going to put this behind him in the sense of forgetting Ms. Ruben and her serious injuries. He makes the point repeatedly that she is in his prayers, and he would like a chance to see her when it’s OK with her family.
But legally speaking, Steve’s mouthpiece James Smith says that now that the fine for driving without his headlights on has been paid (this morning, at a magistrate’s office), the case is done as far as any culpability for the accident on Mr. Benjamin’s part is concerned.
At the less than 15-minute press conference at City Hall, Mr. Benjamin’s aides distributed copies of a series of written statements by him regarding the accident, plus a traffic ticket he was given yesterday, and the original incident report. (I’ll scan those into a PDF for you when I’m home where my scanner is, or link you to them if someone beats me to it, which seems likely.)
As for how he could have been driving without his lights on in a high-tech Mercedes SUV, here’s the salient part of the statement:
My wife and I stayed at the Hilton Hotel in the Vista after the conclusion of the events of election day and election night, April 20, 2010. I was scheduled to be interviewed by WLTX on the April 21, 2010, 6:00 a.m. newscast. I awoke and prepared myself for the morning. I went to the hotel lobby at approximately 5:30 a.m. I had to retrieve the keys for my wife’s vehicle from the desk as there was no valet on duty and the valet had parked our vehicle th day before. I spoke with the front desk clerk and she gave me the keys to my wife’s vehicle. I prepared a cup of coffee and exited the rear of the hotel and walked into the parking garage. I located my wife’s vehicle, got in, started the vehicle, put on the seat belt and exited the parking garage. My wife’s vehicle has automatic lights. I did not adjust the light setting. As I drove the vehicle, the dashboard was illuminated and I was able to clearly see my path of travel.
Steve was reluctant to elaborate on how the lights could have been off, repeatedly referring reporters back to the statement. We were left with the implication that someone other than he had switched the lights off of automatic mode without his knowledge, but he hesitated to come right out and say “The valet did it.”
Other items from the statements and answers at the press confab:
- He had the green light.
- He was in the left lane of the two lanes heading east on Gervais at the time of the collision.
- “I was not impaired at the time of the accident.”
- “I was not fatigued at the time of the accident.”
- “I slept approximately 10 hours in the two nights prior to the accident. The night of the accident I went to bed shortly after 2:00 a.m.”
- At about 11:45 the night before, a supporter bought him “a vodka and tonic or soda.” He said “I cannot remember if I took a sip or two sips, but I drank a little just to be polite.” He later had a drink of Malibu rum and orange juice, just after midnight.
- During the 24 hours before the accident, he had a biscuit with meat and coffee at 7:20 a.m. on election day; baked chicken and green beans for lunch, with water; snacks and candy at various times during the day; missed dinner at the usual hour but ate fruit and vegetables with some water at the convention center celebration.
- He had the sips from the vodka drink at the Liberty Tap Room, where they had hoped to get dinner, but the kitchen was closed.
- He and family and friends moved on to the Sheraton, where “I consumed a cheeseburger, fries, non-alcoholic iced tea and one Malibu and orange juice at approximately 12:12-12:30 a.m. He said he also had some appetizers. Then there was the coffee the next morning.
- Other than the sips of vodka and the rum-and-orange juice (which I’ve got to say sounds like a nasty drink), he acknowledges drinking no alcohol during that 24 hours.
- He says he did not make or receive any phone calls while driving that morning. Nor did he send or check text messages. But he adds, “I did check my voicemail and listened to messages using my speaker function of my cell phone.” The statement is unclear whether that was WHILE driving and no one thought during the press conference to ask that question. Sounds like it was. He concludes that statement, “I was not distracted at the time of the accident.”
That’s what I’ve got for now. I didn’t have my camera, but I’ll have a phone photo or two for you shortly. I’ll post PDFs of the statements and other documents tonight.
Oh, as the “move on” thing in the headline. James said this concludes Benjamin’s part in any legal matters having to do with the accident. As for the city police, their final report won’t be done until the state Highway Patrol is done reviewing it.
The mayor-elect himself made several references to his transition team and the 8 issue areas they are concentrating on, and said he hopes to get as good a media turnout as he had today when the team is ready to unveil their findings on those issues. In other words, he’s anxious to get started doing the job.