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Judge Rules Soap Opera Actress Did Not Tamper With Monitoring Device

Jensen Buchanan is charged with Highway 154 crash that critically injured another driver

A judge in Santa Maria ruled Tuesday that soap opera actress Jensen buchanan did not tamper with the electronic alcohol-monitoring device she is required to wear as a condition of bail on DUI charges stemming from an injury accident last May on Highway 154. Click to view larger
A judge in Santa Maria ruled Tuesday that soap opera actress Jensen buchanan did not tamper with the electronic alcohol-monitoring device she is required to wear as a condition of bail on DUI charges stemming from an injury accident last May on Highway 154. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A veteran soap opera actress did not tamper with her electronic alcohol-monitoring device, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Gustavo Lavayen said Tuesday afternoon in deciding not to revoke Jensen Buchanan’s bail.

But Lavayen had a warning for Buchanan, 54, who was ordered to wear the device as a condition of bail following her arrest for drunken driving causing a crash that critically injured another driver last spring on Highway 154. 

“I find the device for some reason was not functioning for some time,” the judge said, noting the increasing pattern of odd readings before Buchanan had the device tightened on her ankle after it became loose, and lack of odd readings since it was tightened.

However, he reminded Buchanan that complying with the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor, also known as SCRAM, remains a condition of her bail.

“Ms. Buchanan, let me just tell you it’s very concerning to the court, but at this time it does appear, based on the evidence presented to me, the device was not functioning properly,” Lavayen said. “You are to remain on SCRAM.”

Buchanan was arrested following the May 18 crash on Highway 154 where the other driver, Bradley Asolas, who now lives in Arizona, was critically injured.

Afterward, authorities said Buchanan was driving under the influence of alcohol, and registered a blood-alcohol content of 0.34 following the 6:20 a.m. crash.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Garrett Valencia, a program manager for SCRAM California, said the system detected an alleged tampering incident spanning 14 hours starting at approximately 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 16 and ending at 2:30 a.m. on Feb. 17.

The device monitors transdermal alcohol content, with the system taking readings regularly, which are reported to the firm electronically. 

“Essentially, a SCRAM device is like a breathalyzer for the leg,” Valencia said, adding that the equipment measures transdermal alcohol content and monitors the health of the device.

He was the only witness called for Tuesday’s hearing and questioned by Deputy District Attorney Tiffany Dix and defense attorney Dmitry Gorin. The defense team also includes Meryl Chambers and Josh Lynn. 

Violations that can be detected by the SCRAM include consumption of alcohol, interference with the system or removal of the device. 

Tampering is defined as three hours with unusual readings plus detection of alcohol or eight hours without detection of alcohol but levels outside the range established by the baseline.

Those tampering incidents can involve putting a paper towel, foil or plastic between the device and skin to avoid having alcohol detected, Valencia said. If a person drinks alcohol it would leave the system after eight hours. 

The SCRAM never detected alcohol in Buchanan’s system, Valencia added. 

A few days after the alleged tampering incident, Buchanan showed up to have the device tightened. Her defense attorneys blamed weight loss for loosening the device.

The judge ordered Buchanan and the attorneys to return May 17 for hearing to determine whether her preliminary hearing will occur as planned June 9. 

Buchanan reportedly had considering entering a plea to the judge. 

Prosecutors want Buchanan to spend time in jail, while defense attorneys are seeking probation. 

Outside the courtroom, Gorin said Asolas had received a seven-figure settlement from Buchanan’s insurance company so restitution has been made. 

He also said Buchanan is remorseful, and has a letter she wants to present Asolas. The defense attorneys have not allowed Buchanan to present the letter to Asolas until the criminal case is completed.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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