DA denies DUI and disputes
police report in hit-and-run
[Fresno, CA]

Michael Baker And Matthew Kreamer The Fresno Bee
December 28, 2000, Thursday Final Edition
Copyright 2000 Mcclatchy Newspapers, Inc.
The Fresno Bee
December 28, 2000, Thursday Final Edition

(FRESNO, Calif.) -- Fresno police and District Attorney Ed Hunt tried not to step on the other's toes Wednesday, but both stuck by their stories about Hunt's alleged hit-and-run last week.

In the police report, officer Brad Bailey wrote that Hunt said "it is very possible that he was too intoxicated to be driving."

That's simply not true, Hunt said again Wednesday.

"I don't ever remember saying that, and I would have no reason to say that because I was never under the influence," he said. "I'm not saying the cops are lying. I'm saying we miscommunicated."

Police Lt. John Fries defended the report and Bailey's account of Hunt's statement.

"I'm not saying that he's lying, but we're standing by our officer's report," Fries said.

According to the report, Hunt was eastbound Friday on McKinley Avenue and grazed the rear of a car driven by Eugene A. Handza. Handza told Bailey he saw the car hit a median and saw the driver's "head nodding back and forth in a relaxed state and bouncing off the head rest and driver's side window."

Hunt denied being drunk and said that, had he been in an accident, he would have stopped.

Handza said he copied Hunt's license plate number and stopped a few minutes later to call police. He said he never recognized Hunt.

Police didn't contact Hunt until about 21/2 hours later, when Bailey and Sgt. Shannon Hodson arrived at his home.

Bailey wrote in his report that Hunt's level of intoxication at the time of the collision was unknown. The officer is expected to submit a follow-up report this week that will describe Hunt's demeanor and whether he appeared intoxicated later at his home.

A sergeant accompanied Bailey to Hunt's house so police could ensure the incident was handled appropriately once they identified the county's top prosecutor as the suspect.

The response to Hunt's home was delayed because no officers were immediately available, Fries said. Bailey arrived after he finished taking a statement from the other driver and investigated the accident scene.

No sobriety tests were done at Hunt's home, Fries said. "It wouldn't have been able to establish at that time what his sobriety was at the accident scene."

However, Hodson later asked Hunt to drive his sport utility vehicle to a nearby shopping center so photos could be taken. That wouldn't have happened if Hunt had appeared intoxicated, Fries said.

Hunt said: "If a police officer believes that a person has been drinking at all, they don't let a person get back in the car, and they certainly don't ask somebody to."

Any conversation between him and the officers about his alcohol consumption was brief, Hunt said, adding that Hodson simply asked him whether he had had anything to drink that evening.

"I said, 'Sure. It's Christmas,'" Hunt said.

Hunt has said he had a couple drinks of scotch at the Downtown Club on Kern Street, but that he wasn't drunk and certainly would have known if he was in an accident.

Hunt wouldn't show his bill from the private club but said it would reveal that he bought drinks for several people who stopped by to chat. Hunt told police he had gone to the Downtown Club to meet Rod Hilton, an investigator in the District Attorney's Office. Hilton said Wednesday that he has "no comment" about the incident.

Hunt said the alleged accident and resulting report have been blown out of proportion by The Bee. "The problem that I saw with the whole episode is somehow the Police Department had me admitting I was drunk," Hunt said. "People miscommunicate all the time. There really was nothing to this incident.

"I think The Fresno Bee has basically decided you want to destroy me. I think you guys are giving me unfair special treatment."

There was only minor damage to Handza's 1995 Volkswagen Jetta -- a black scuff mark on the right rear corner -- and no damage from the collision to Hunt's 1996 Toyota 4Runner, according to Bailey's report.

Fries said he didn't expect the case to be pursued because Handza told officers he did not want to file charges.

"If it's a felony case, the DA or grand jury can make a filing against someone, but in a misdemeanor you need the participation of the victim or it's not going to go anywhere," Fries said.

Bailey's report said Hunt caused the collision by driving at unsafe speed for the conditions, which were dry and clear weather with heavy traffic.

The reporters can be reached at mbaker @fresnobee.com, mkreamer@fresnobee.com or 441-6330.

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