Ex-assistant principal's lawyers can't convince judge to overturn the jury's verdict against him
An alcohol-related crash that killed one person sent another to state prison Monday when former Crescent Elk Middle School Assistant Principal Coulter Mann was sentenced to three years on charges of driving under the influence and causing injury.
In this case, injury actually refers to the death of Kenneth Jones, who was killed in a head-on collision when Mann's truck drifted into the southbound lane of U.S. Highway 101 on Dec. 21, 2012.
Jones was headed south, on his way home to Klamath; Mann was headed north, on his way home to Brookings after drinking alcohol at a social gathering of fellow Del Norte Unified School District employees.
Though initially included in Mann's indictment, the Del Norte District Attorney's office dropped a charge of grossly negligent vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated before the case went to trial.
Jurors ultimately convicted Mann on one charge, of driving under the influence with a special enhancement for causing great bodily injury. At sentencing, visiting Judge Richard Kalustian dropped the enhancement, which would have imposed an additional three years in state prison and required that Mann serve 85 percent of his sentence before being eligible for parole.
"With it, the number of days spent in jail would exceed what I think is fair in this case," Kalustian said.
The judge also cited Mann's contributions to the community and his lack of a criminal record.
Without the enhancement Mann will be eligible for parole halfway through his 3-year sentence. He has not spent any time in jail since the Dec. 21 collision that killed Jones.
Mann requested probation, while the victim's family sought the maximum penalty of six years in state prison.
"In this case nobody is going to be happy no matter what the sentence is," Kalustian remarked gravely as the five-hour sentencing drew to a close.
Throughout the proceedings Mann's attorneys maintained that alcohol consumption was not a factor in Jones' death.
In a motion for a new trial presented at the sentencing Monday, Mann's defense characterized the collision as an accident resulting from a driving error.
Mann's defense co-counsel and father, Ed Mann, argued "there is not one single piece of evidence in this case to indicate this driver was impaired."
Deputy District Attorney Todd Zocchi countered that "Out of the defense you have the word 'accident.' Accident. It's a crime. It's a felony. It's driving under the influence and killing someone. It's choices that he made. It's not an accident."
Blood tests showed Mann's alcohol level was .20 hours after the collision and .09 early the next morning. The legal limit is .08.
At the party prior to the collision, Mann testified to drinking 35-40 ounces of beer with an 8.8 percent alcohol content and 24-36 ounces of beer with a 5.6 percent alcohol content.
Jones' family and friends listened to the motion for a new trial Monday before giving "victim impact statements" about how the loss of Kenneth Jones has affected their lives.
"My life was changed by someone who made a choice to drink and drive," began the victim's daughter, Kendra Jones.
"I was walking down that road to forgive and we even agreed to meet (with Mann) face to face - then that California Highway Patrol report came out, with him (Mann), refusing everything and denying everything. I just couldn't do it," she said, her voice breaking with sobs.
While she spoke a slideshow of family snapshots played for the court, happy-looking moments from the life of Kenneth Jones.
Many of the victim's family members and friends lamented that Mann has never admitted to drunk driving.
"A man's life is not defined by a single event of this magnitude," Mann's defense co-counsel, Dain Weiner, began in his closing remarks.
Weiner appealed to the judge for probation rather than prison time, citing Mann's personal history, his employment record with the school district, his clean criminal record, and his 14 months of reported sobriety since the accident.
Judge Kalustian responded in his final decision:
"I don't see Mr. Mann as a bad person, but he did commit a crime, which was something he could have prevented. I don't call that an accident. I call it exceedingly bad judgment, criminal bad judgment."
Reach Emily Jo Cureton at DNTriplicate@gmail.com.