The man critically injured in a crash caused by a veteran soap opera actress driving with a blood-alcohol level more than four times the legal limit last year told a Santa Maria Superior Court judge on Friday that his body is battered and his life is forever changed.
Emotional victim-impact statements were given before the sentencing of Jensen Buchanan, 55, for causing the head-on crash on Highway 154 while driving with a .34 blood alcohol content when the collision happened at 6:20 a.m. May 18, 2016.
Buchanan, who appeared on multiple soap operas, changed her plea to guilty in August after the judge indicated his intent to sentence her to one year in county jail and five years probation, while suspending a 6-year prison term.
The guilty plea came on the day her preliminary hearing had been scheduled to start, and did not involve a deal with the District Attorney’s Office, which had consistently argued for prison time.
On Friday, Arizona residents Bradley Asolas, 57, of Arizona and his wife, Sandy, also urged the judge to impose the maximum sentence.
“Even though I didn’t die that day, in a very real sense she took away my life, because now I am going to die sooner than I probably would have,” Asolas said.
At the time of the crash, Asolas was heading to work in Santa Maria, commuting from his brother’s house in Camarillo.
His active and healthy life before the crash has become one filled with pain and medical appointments as his body recovers from a lengthy list of injuries, he said.
He now walks with a cane, and requires a scooter when they visit their favorite amusement park, Disneyland.
Asolas spent 34 days in Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and rehab facilities after the crash.
“I will list my injuries because it’s insane how broken up my body got,” he said.
A massive heart attack blamed on the crash meant doctors postponed dealing with many of his other injuries, such as not operating on his broken leg for eight days, as they fought to keep him alive.
He said 45 percent of his heart is dead and ultimately may require a heart transplant or simply fail.
“You might give her the max. I have basically been given a death sentence,” he said. “Quite frankly, I didn’t die that day, I very well could have. They kept me alive those doctors. Praise the doctors at Cottage Hospital, they kept me alive.”
He had a broken ribs, a shattered pelvis, fractured spine, and shattered femur repaired with a temporary plate still in place and causing other troubles as his body struggles to heal.
Asolas said he received 17 units of blood and had a lacerated liver, spleen and kidney along with a collapsed lung and a pulmonary embolism
“I’m not even reading all this because they go on and on and on,” he said. “My body is battered from all of this.”
Respiratory failure meant he was intubated four times. Previously active in a men’s choir before the crash, he said he can’t sing any more and suspects the tubes changed his voice.
He can’t work, and efforts to treat his pain made him reliant on opioid medicines daily. They are selling their home since climbing stairs to reach the second floor is painful.
“I’m like an old man,” he said.
His wife also urged the judge to hand down a prison sentence, noting the effects of the crash affected them, their children, their grandchildren and friends.
Both told of having post traumatic stress disorder from the crash and aftermath. While still trapped in the vehicle, Bradley Asolas called to tell his wife what happened before he passed out, a call that replays in her head daily.
“I touch his heart in the middle of the night to make sure he’s breathing,” she said.
After hearing from the husband and wife, Judge James Voysey abruptly called for a break, admitting later that the statements affected him.
Deputy District Attorney Jon Kawashima renewed his argument for a prison sentence, noting that DUIs don’t always involve hardened criminals.
“It requires terrible decisions, terrible consequences, and that’s what we have here,” he said.
But defense attorney Josh Lynn, who represented Jensen along with Dmitry Gorin, said Buchanan has changed her life in the 16 months since the crash, staying sober since.
“The circumstance after this accident was one I have just never seen on either side that I have been on —a defendant doing what she has done,” Lynn said. “And it’s not because she had money or because she was well-known.”
Lynn also noted Asolas received a settlement — $5 million, the attorney said — from Buchanan’s insurance.
Before being led away in handcuffs, Buchanan stood up and faced the audience, addressing the Asolas family
“I’m the drunk driver who caused tremendous emotional pain and suffering to your entire community and family. I made the tragic choice to drink and drive, changing the course of your life forever,” she said. “What I did is wrong.’
“I am deeply and profoundly sorry for all the pain and suffering I have caused all of you,” she added, as crying could be heard throughout the courtroom.
She added that she intends to remain sober, one day at a time, for the rest of her life, and continue to attend Alcoholics Anonymous while embracing the sober network built in the past 16 months
“I promise you there is no incarceration that will be as difficult as living with the knowledge of the damage that I have inflicted on you and your family. I am forever changed by what I have done. I will live, rightly so, with the horror of what I have caused,” Buchanan said.
She pleaded guilty to felony driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury, and felony driving with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent or greater.
She also admitted to causing great bodily injury and driving with a blood alcohol level above .15 percent.
The judge noted the difficulty in deciding the punishment for Buchanan, saying she suffered from the disease of alcoholism.
“Ladies, and gentleman, I can tell you this court is greatly affected by what I heard today,” he said, adding that the court often has winners and losers. “There’s no winners in this case. None whatsoever.”
If prison would give back something to the family, Voysey said, he would consider incarceration. But the agreed-upon sentence of one year in county jail and five years probation means she will undergo supervision and must attend programs as instructed.
“Should Ms. Buchanan violate the terms and conditions of her probation, every day of that six-year prison sentence is right there, and I would not hesitate to impose it,” Voysey said.