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Elder claims he wasn't drunk in double fatal

By MARY SCHLEY

Published: April 19, 2013

THE PACIFIC Grove man arrested on suspicion of felony DUI and vehicular manslaughter following a crash that killed two women and injured a third in Pebble Beach April 7 denies being drunk at the time of the wreck, according to his San Francisco attorney, Paul Puri.

In the collision, which occurred around 7:30 p.m. on Sloat Road near Bird Rock Road, Elder’s Cadillac Escalade crossed over the center line and hit a Ford Freestyle driven by 72-year-old Pebble Beach resident Sharon Daly head-on, killing her and her 65-year-old passenger, Linda Larone, who also lived in P.B, according to police.

A passenger in Elder’s vehicle, 20-year-old Selvia Gattas of Pebble Beach, was seriously injured and taken by helicopter to Stanford hospital, while Elder was treated at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula for minor injuries and was then arrested and booked into Monterey County Jail on charges of felony DUI and vehicular manslaughter. He posted $430,000 bail and was released.

On Monday, Puri issued a statement denying the allegations and making Elder out to be a concerned man who took care of his friend in the crash’s aftermath and is mourning the deaths he caused.

“Stuart Elder took all precautions, care and concern under the circumstances, and flatly denies he was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident,” he said in the statement, which also accused local media and police of “colluding in sensationalist yellow journalism and debased character assassination for their mutual profit and gain.”

He said Elder “will be vindicated in a court of law.”

But California Highway Patrol public information officer Bob Lehman said the officers — who are highly trained in accident investigation and determining whether a driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs — had cause to conclude Elder was drunk, though he wouldn’t go into details. He also noted the CHP is the top echelon when it comes to skills, training, technique and information regarding DUI investigations.

“From the evidence at the scene, the officers concluded Mr. Elder was under the influence at the time of the crash,” he said. That evidence might have included the odor of alcohol in the area and on his breath, his demeanor, the redness and wateriness of his eyes, and field sobriety tests.

“Certainly, our officers found indications — sight, scent and his demeanor — that all led to that conclusion,” he said.

A blood sample was taken at the hospital, but toxicology results are still weeks away, according to Lehman.

“The investigation is still in its infancy and is developing,” he said. “I know the DA does like to wait for the results before they file the final charges, and I don’t know what sort of information they currently have on hand.”

Because Elder is out on bail, rather than in custody at the jail, investigators and the district attorney’s office have a little more time before they have to file, and it could be awhile.

In a similar case involving Carmel Valley teenager Ryan Armstrong, who was initially suspected of drunken driving in the Jeep crash that killed his friend and seriously injured another in Cachagua in August 2011, six months passed before the district attorney’s office formalized its case against him. And while evidence showed Armstrong had alcohol in his system despite not being old enough to drink, the eventual charge did not include the original allegation of DUI. He eventually pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced last summer, 10 months after the crash, to a suspended jail sentence of one year and three years’ probation.

In the Elder case, the investigation will likely be time consuming, as officers research and interview people to determine what he was doing in the 24 hours leading up to the crash, where he had been drinking if he was, and any other variables that might have contributed to the fatal collision.

While his court history includes more than a dozen traffic citations over the years — including tickets for driving without a license, speeding and not wearing a seat belt, and a bench warrant issued by a judge when he failed to make a court date — Lehman said those violations wouldn’t be a factor in pursuing this case.


Passenger not suspected

Lehman also said police at the scene did not believe Gattas had been drinking.
“Our officers did not suspect that she was intoxicated,” he said.

Although she was flown by helicopter to Stanford hospital the night of the crash, Gattas has since been discharged and is reportedly back home, recovering from injuries to her leg and wrist.

In his press release, Puri — whose law firm specializes in “defense against serious accusations and restoring the reputations of good people in their communities” — said Elder and his friends and family “wish to express their deepest condolences to the family and friends of these beloved members of the Pebble Beach community.”

“The tragic losses of Ms. Daly and Ms. Larone will be remembered and held in all our hearts and prayers,” he quoted Elder as saying. “My life will never be the same. For the rest of my life, I will mourn the deaths of these kind souls.” The women were the former owners of Stone’s Pet Shop on Forest Avenue in P.G.
Elder, 30, owns and operates Pacific Grove-based ECI Building Inc., specializing in upscale home projects.