“Remorseful” was a word that came up countless times in Santa Barbara County Superior Court on Thursday to describe Martin “Leo” Maguire, who pleaded guilty to charges of felony DUI stemming from a collision that left a Canadian couple critically injured earlier this year.
That testimony came before Maguire, 51, of Montecito, entered his plea to charges of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol and special allegations of causing great bodily injury. Maguire was charged in the May 29 crash in which his SUV slammed into James Atwood, 63, and his wife, Ellen, 59, who were riding their motorcycle near Montecito Country Club.
Officers on the scene told Noozhawk that the collision occurred as the Atwoods were following another couple on a motorcycle westbound in the 800 block of Old Coast Highway. Maguire’s eastbound Toyota 4Runner crossed over the center line, striking the couple head-on.
The Atwoods both suffered major injuries in the collision. Each had legs amputated and they’re recovering near their home in Orangeville, Ontario.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Arnie Tolks told Noozhawk after Thursday’s hearing that the victims are “still struggling” to heal.
“They’ve expressed interest in being there for sentencing,” he said, and asked that the sentencing be held Jan. 8 to give the Atwoods time to recover and travel to Santa Barbara to testify.
Maguire could face up to nine years in prison, and although a judge will consider an “early admission of guilt,” Tolks said, it will ultimately be up to the court to decide how much time he will serve.
Although multiple character witnesses described what they said was Maguire’s remorse, it was not enough to convince Judge John Dobroth to reduce Maguire’s charges to a misdemeanor, which his attorney had called for earlier in Thursday’s hearing.
Christine Voss, who was representing Maguire, called to the stand several of Maguire’s relatives, who had traveled from as far away as Florida to testify in defense of his character.
The first to be called was his sister, Lorena Maguire, who lives in Naples, Fla. She said she and her brother, whom she called “Leo,” have talked on the phone weekly since the collision.
“I know that he has wanted to express his deep sympathy and asking forgiveness … but has not been able to, legally or otherwise,” she said.
She said her brother has taken care of their bedridden mother for the last five years, adding that “Leo has always shown nothing but selflessness and care and concern for everyone in his family.”
Maguire had “been very ill the one week he was in jail,” she said, and noted that there would be no one to care for their mother if he went to prison.
For the last 20 years, she said, Maguire has been suffering from chronic vomiting syndrome linked to anxiety, and has been hospitalized several times as a result. He also was prescribed anti-anxiety medications.
Maguire has had several surgeries, after which he was taking prescribed medication for the pain, she said.
Since the collision, she said, her brother had asked a physician to prescribe him a non-narcotic, gone to AA and NA meetings, and contacted the Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse’s Project Recovery.
Tolks asked the woman whether Maguire had acknowledged whether he should have been driving at the time of the crash.
“He said, ‘I took something for pain for my back,’ and he did say it’s a horrible thing what happened,” she said.
When pressed by Tolks, Lorena Maguire said that, during the hundreds of conversations they’ve had, “I’m sure he has said he probably shouldn’t have been driving.”
Tolks also asked about money sent from an aunt to their mother’s bank account for Maguire. He asked why it hadn’t been sent directly to Maguire’s account, and implied that his family was trying to hide it from paying restitution.
Maguire’s sister said that the aunt regularly sends money to him for their mother’s care, and that there was nothing sinister about using an account that wasn’t under his name.
Maguire has a previous conviction for reckless driving from 2009, an incident that came up several times during Thursday’s hearing.
Police records document Maguire’s vehicle “swerving into oncoming traffic,” and state that responding officers observed that Maguire’s speech was slurred and that he was unable to complete a series of field sobriety tests.
“In a search of his vehicle, a bottle of medication was located with four different types of pills inside,” two of which — lorezapam and hydrocodone — Maguire did not have a prescription for, the report stated.
Maguire’s charges were ultimately reduced to reckless driving from DUI, and court records show he was sentenced to a year of probation and a $1,040 fine.
The fact that he was never ordered into treatment was not lost on his attorney.
Voss said the justice system failed Maguire after his 2009 reckless driving conviction by not forcing him to do any sort of treatment.
As for the medications involved in the current case, Voss said that “none of these medications say you can’t drive. They say exercise care.”
Earlier, Voss also called to the stand a cousin, John Maguire of San Jose, who said when he spoke with Maguire after the collision, “it was very clear Leo was overwhelmed with guilt.”
Maguire’s uncle, Michael Maguire, a defense attorney from Austin, Texas, described his nephew as part of a very close-knit family.
“I have no doubt this is a truly remorseful person,” he said. “I do think he probably has become dependent (on prescription drugs), and I think he’s turned the corner on realizing this.”
Michael Maguire also said the family would do its part to monitor and finance rehabilitation “to see that this never happens again.”
The last witness called was Joel Shefflin, a real estate investor who met Maguire when he was a subcontractor on his Montecito home.
Shefflin said Maguire was “friendly, gracious and responsible.”
The two men became friends, and Shefflin recalled coming across Maguire after the crash.
“He was genuinely crushed because these people’s bodies and lives were damaged,” he said, adding that Maguire told him he had taken a prescription painkiller and had one beer “some hours earlier,” but never admitted he should not have been driving.
Santa Barbara police Officer Jaycee Hunter, who responded to the crash scene in May, was also in court Thursday, but was not called to testify because the judge had already decided not to reduce the charges after Voss called all of her character witness.
“Obviously, he’s a really good man and that makes the whole thing extra tragic,” Dobroth said of Maguire.
“What troubles the court is that he’s had some implication of these medication issues for years, and has had exposure to the criminal-justice system … While his blood-alcohol level was relatively low, it was an indication of a person who is on the cusp of having issues and careless with his timing.”
Later in his comments, Dobroth said the word “insidious” came to mind as he pondered Maguire’s prescription-drug use while driving, adding that at some point, Maguire became accustomed to driving with an altered mind.
“Does that warrant someone being exposed to a prison sentence?” Voss asked, adding that a prison sentence would not serve to fix what had been done to the victims.
After some discussion between attorneys, Maguire entered a guilty plea to the charges.
His sentencing is set for Jan. 8.
— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.