Aspen driver with penchant for sleeping pills pleads guilty to DUI
An Aspen woman who was arrested for driving while intoxicated twice in four days last summer pleaded guilty Monday to one count of felony DUI.
Leslee Francis, 56, also will plead guilty Thursday to a second count of felony DUI in front of another District Court judge, while a third DUI she picked up Mother’s Day 2018 with her teenage son in the car will be dismissed, said prosecutor Don Nottingham.
In exchange for one of the guilty pleas, Francis will receive a four-year deferred sentence, meaning the felony conviction will be wiped from her record if she stays out of trouble during those four years. The second DUI will stand as Francis’ fifth DUI conviction.
She would have faced as many as six months in jail for the plea to the second DUI, but she has already served that much time and her plea deal ensures she won’t serve more. A person cannot be sent to prison for DUI until all other treatment options have been exhausted, Nottingham said.
“This disposition means hopefully she can get a handle on the issues that brought her before the court,” he said. “If not, she’ll likely get sent to prison.”
Francis admitted Monday to driving under the influence of prescription drugs. She was in possession of a drug called Zolpidem, a sedative used to treat insomnia, after both her DUI arrests in late July and early August, according to court documents. She also tested positive for the drug after her Mother’s Day arrest in 2018.
Francis pleaded guilty to felony trespassing in August 2017 after she was caught on surveillance video breaking in to her neighbor’s home and stealing seven pills used to treat high blood pressure. She was sentenced to 60 days in jail and three years probation in November 2017 for that incident, meaning that she was on probation when all three DUIs occurred.
Francis, her two defense lawyers, the prosecutor and District Judge Chris Seldin all appeared in court by phone Monday because of coronavirus concerns. The only people in the courtroom were two court clerks, two prisoners from the Pitkin County Jail awaiting hearings, a sheriff’s deputy from the jail and an Aspen Times reporter. Another Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy was stationed outside in the hallway.
In other court news Monday:
• A Snowmass Village man who yelled that he had coronavirus at Gondola Plaza on the last day of lift-served skiing last month, then sneezed near skiers and later spit into an Aspen police officer’s eyes was released Monday on his own recognizance.
A frustrated Judge Seldin said that despite the fact he was concerned that Brandon Tidrow’s recent behavior was “extremely alarming,” he didn’t want Tidrow “languishing in custody.” The judge said he’d repeatedly asked officials with the Probation Department to come up with a plan that would allow Tidrow to be released, but had not received one.
So on Monday, the judge released Tidrow, 32, and told him not to commit new crimes and to set up appointments to check in with local mental health providers twice a week.
“You gotta understand — this is it,” Seldin told Tidrow. “If we run into more trouble, I’m going to feel like I’ve done all I can do.”
In addition to sneezing near skiers March 14, a mohawk-wearing Tidrow spit on nearby hand rails, and put his hands down his pants and wiped them on other people while yelling that he had the virus, according to a police report. When officers spotted him outside Carl’s Pharmacy, he ran inside, yelled to customers that he had coronavirus, then spit in the officer’s face when he tried to apprehend him.
Tidrow will be charged with felony assault for spitting on the officer, Nottingham has said. He’s also been arrested twice on misdemeanor charges in recent weeks, Seldin noted.
“This is the sort of pattern that gives me great concern,” Seldin said. “It’s an indication to me that something is off the rails.”
It was not clear if Tidrow has or had COVID-19.
• A Basalt man charged with burglarizing a marijuana dispensary in February then robbing it less than two weeks later at knifepoint will remain behind bars at the Pitkin County Jail for the time being, Judge Seldin said Monday.
A public defender representing Hayden May, 26, asked Seldin to release him on his own recognizance or a low cash bond, saying he could live with his older brother at an apartment in the Basalt area. May also could obtain part-time work at his father’s company, she said.
Prosecutor Nottingham, however, said the employees of the Basalt marijuana dispensary that was robbed March 1 by a man wearing a ski mask asked the judge to set a high bond for May. The employees recognized May’s eyes and his voice during the robbery because he is a regular customer, and were concerned about him getting out of jail, he said.
Nottingham also noted that May recently finished probation related to his robbery of an Aspen marijuana dispensary using a hammer in June 2015.
Seldin declined to modify the $30,000 bond he previously set for May.
“The court’s concern is public safety,” he said.
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A former choir teacher at Basalt High School was sentenced Wednesday to 90 days in Garfield County Jail and an undetermined time on probation for a sexual relationship with a male student. Brittany von Stein, 26, was ordered to report to jail at 6 p.m. Wednesday.