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Soap Opera Actress Pleads Guilty to DUI Charges for Highway 154 Crash

Jensen Buchanan could receive suspended prison term, spend a year in Santa Barbara County Jail

Soap opera actress Jensen Buchanan on Friday pleaded guilt to DUI charges stemming from a vehicle accident last year that severely injured another driver. She could received a suspended 6-year prison sentence and spend 365 days in Santa Barbara County Jail. Click to view larger
Soap opera actress Jensen Buchanan on Friday pleaded guilt to DUI charges stemming from a vehicle accident last year that severely injured another driver. She could received a suspended 6-year prison sentence and spend 365 days in Santa Barbara County Jail. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A veteran soap opera actress who drove the wrong way on Highway 154 with more than four times the legal limit of alcohol in her system, causing a crash that critically injured another driver last year, changed her plea on DUI and other charges to guilty on Friday.

Before the Santa Barbara County Superior Court preliminary hearing’s scheduled start — and after meetings between attorneys and Judge James Voysey in his chambers — Jensen Buchanan entered her guilty plea.

The proposed sentence calls for a suspended 6-year prison term, with Buchanan instead to be sentenced to 365 days in Santa Barbara County Jail and five years felony probation.

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office opposes the lighter sentence and does not have a plea deal.

The plea came after Voysey indicated his intended sentence, but he advised it was conditional upon hearing from the other driver, Bradley Asolas, about his injuries during a planned sentencing hearing Oct. 6.

Authorities said Buchanan was driving with a blood alcohol level of .34 percent at the time of the 6:20 a.m. crash on Highway 154 near the Live Oak Camp on May 18, 2016.

California Highway Patrol officers from Buellton said Buchanan, the driver of a Mercedes S550, was eastbound on Highway 154 and allowed her vehicle to drift across the double yellow line directly into the path of a westbound Ford C-Max. 

Asolas, who now lives in Arizona, suffered major injuries and had to be extricated from his vehicle. 

He spent more than 30 days in Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, and continues his recovery from the various injuries more than a year later.

Buchanan 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.

Deputy District Attorney Jon Kawashima said he objected to the proposed sentence.

“I think I’ve indicated this case had severe consequences that involved severe conduct that resulted in lifelong injuries to Bradley Asolas,” Kawashima said. 

He also objected to the judge agreeing to allow Buchanan to withdraw her guilty plea if he decides to impose a different sentence. 

Asolas, who lives in Arizona and did not attend Friday’s hearing, will testify during the sentencing hearing, Kawashima said.

"He will indicate to the court what he's gone through as a result of this crime. And if the court at that point is compelled to take away the probation (sentence) indication, for prison, then Ms Buchanan has the option of hitting a reset button,” Kawashima said. 

“I believe that’s not fair to the victim in this case,” Kawashima added. “He doesn't have the ability to hit a reset button himself.”

Buchanan answered “guilty” twice during the hearing and the judge accepted the plea.

“The court has everything it needs to see except for the current medical condition of the victim in this case, and the court will continue sentencing until I can get that information,” Voysey said.

The judge also told the defendant that “driving under the influence is dangerous,” before warning Buchanan that she could face a murder charge and a life sentence if involved in a future drunken driving crash that ends in death.

Outside the courtroom, defense attorney Dimitry Gorin noted the judge’s intended sentence of a year in county jail includes “some significant custody time.”

“He was swayed by the Probation Department’s recommendation, that she be allowed to do probation with county jail time rather than be sentenced to prison,” Gorin said. “She expressed great remorse over what happened.”

His client has completed 18 months of in- and out-patient treatment and attended hundreds of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Gorin added. She also wears an electronic alcoholic monitor around her ankle.

“We believe the judge’s decision is supported based on all the facts and circumstances, the probation report and everything Jensen Buchanan has done to show her commitment to sobriety,” Gorin said. 

“I appreciate that the judge engaged counsel on both sides for such a long period of time,” said defense attorney Josh Lynn. “It’s a really difficult circumstance factually, legally and emotionally for everybody involved, so that process, I think, was very productive.”

Buchanan appeared on numerous soap operas in nearly three decades, including most recently on The Young and the Restless in 2015, and previously on One Life to Live and Another World. 

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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