Benjamin pays $81.87 fine; ready to move on

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.

A phone photo of a copy of the citation; sorry about the quality.

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.

16 thoughts on “Benjamin pays $81.87 fine; ready to move on

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    “a biscuit with meet and coffee” — some kind of political dish akin to a meet-and-greet?

    His lights were apparently on when he drove past the Oyster Bar, per a video. I’m guessing there was an electrical malfunction, and since he was driving on a well-lit street, into the sunrise–there would have been a glow, he did not notice.

  2. York Durden

    When will somebody tell the truth, which I believe is that he ran the red light. Lights off? Really? Bullcrud.

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    I just figured out that Starbucks Warthen likes meet-and-coffee….

    Daddy Starbucks…

  4. Michael P.

    So Benjamin’s lawyer doesn’t think there will be a civil lawsuit to cover her pain and suffering, loss of income, damages to vehicle, etc.? I bet Bill Green is already on this one.

  5. Maude Lebowski

    No Burl, it’s Sanford’s Argentina.

    Seriously, why not release the ticket in the days immediately following the accident? Now it doesn’t just smell like cover-up, it reeks of it.

  6. Anne

    Why is “The valet did it” a bad explanation? It’s an honest mistake on the part of the valet, it’s happened to a lot of people before and it’s an honest mistake on the part of the driver, if he/she is used to having the lights on and is driving on an already lit city street. I’m a good driver (according to my driving record) and very conscientious. My car has automatic lights because I have it set to automatic. Both valets and my husband have turned the switch to “off” out of habit. Sounds like an honest mistake that may have contributed to a very unfortunate and sad accident. I’m not just referring to this incident, but it really irks me that we are shocked at imperfection and honest mistakes. I feel really sad for Ms. Ruben and her family, but I don’t think anyone involved is evil. Is that so impossible?

  7. Kathryn Fenner

    @Maude– I think they needed the forensic evidence that his lights were off, and they didn’t have it until recently.

    @Michael P.– SB was determined to be contributorily negligent in not having his lights on, but he had the right of way. She pulled out in front of him when she had a red light. Sounds like she was a lot more negligent than he was, so she would not recover from him–if my SC tort law understanding is accurate (not my area at all)…but it IS his lawyer’s area of expertise.

  8. Michael P.

    There is no “No Turn on Red” sign at that intersection… I drive it everyday. If the light is red and the lane is clear you have every legal right to turn right at the intersection. Now how does the law decide who is at fault? If she stops, looks left and does not see the dark colored car in the darkness with it’s lights turned off is she in violation? This is the primary reason of having driving lights on vehicles, so others can see you. In this case they were physically turned off by someone and as the driver you are responsible for the vehicle you are driving. If so, was she not given a ticket when she received one for not having insurance? Had this happened at 5:00 p.m., I say yes she was at fault… but not at 5:30 a.m. prior to sunrise.

  9. Michael P.

    Anne – Why would a valet purposely turn off someone’s driving lights? Their job is to park your car, not make adjustments to your vehicle’s settings.

    Why don’t they ask the valet if he/she turned off the lights?

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