A 17-year-old Novato boy was arraigned on felony DUI charges Friday for an alleged drunken wreck in his mother's car with five other San Marin High School students aboard.
The lanky defendant, dressed in orange jail clothes, appeared in court at Juvenile Hall while his mother and grandfather watched in the audience. The defendant is facing two DUI-related counts with injuries and a potential nine-year sentence, although juvenile cases have a wide range of penalty outcomes.
The teenager is also charged with an infraction for violating the terms of his provisional driver's license by driving with minor passengers and driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
As the defendant kept his face lowered, Deputy Public Defender Beth Wissing-Healy denied the allegations on his behalf and asked Judge Terrence Boren to release him on home detention.
The teen's mother, sobbing, assured the judge that the family could provide adequate supervision.
"If (he's) allowed to come home, myself and my family will help make sure that he's watched and we'll do what we need to do," she said.
Authorities expressed skepticism. Probation official Janene Connor said the boy was already on diversion for an alcohol possession violation just a few months ago.
Prosecutor Ron Ravani said the suspect's preliminary alcohol reading was .096 percent -- the legal driving limit for adults is .08 percent -- more than an hour after the crash. The teen is also suspected of using marijuana before driving.
Ravani also noted that the teenager, by his own admission, was speeding through a residential neighborhood when he crashed early Tuesday morning.
"This was extremely dangerous conduct," Ravani said. "Innocent people in their homes were endangered."
Judge Boren said "it was more good luck than good planning" that the injuries were not worse. He ordered the boy detained, but granted the probation department the authority to decide whether to give him home detention.
Kevin Lynch, director of juvenile services for the Marin County Probation Department, said he could not comment on whether the teen will get home detention because juvenile cases are confidential.
The teenager returns to court next week for further proceedings.
The defendant, a senior at San Marin, was at the wheel of his mother's Mitsubishi Endeavor SUV when it crashed at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday in western Novato, police said.
The vehicle was traveling at 60 to 80 mph when it went through the T-intersection of Sutro Avenue at Vineyard Road, struck a fire hydrant and a tree, and went into a ditch, the California Highway Patrol reported.
The SUV was carrying two other boys and three girls, all 17-year-old San Marin students, the CHP said. A girl suffered a broken jaw and dislodged teeth, a boy suffered a head wound, and the others reported minor injuries.
Lorna Brindley, who lives two doors from the intersection, said was working on her computer when she heard "a girl's high-pitched scream" followed by a loud impact. Brindley and other neighbors ran from their homes to see what happened and found dazed young people climbing up the bank.
"It was really scary," she said. "The water was shooting up. The car was down in the ditch. Half the people who went out there were like, 'Where's my kid?'"
She said the driver seemed "calm and collected" and admitted to driving the vehicle.
The CHP is still investigating where the students were drinking, whether parents were present and how the teens got the alcohol, said CHP Officer Eric Hohmeister.
Police thus far have not requested charges against the other teens in the car.
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