Pitkin County’s first felony drunk driver arrested
A 55-year-old Edwards man stopped for drunken driving Wednesday night on Highway 82 is the first person ever charged with felony DUI in Pitkin County.
Mark Neal has been convicted of drunken driving four or five times — a prosecutor gave one number while police cited the other — which qualifies him for the felony charge under a new law that went into effect Aug. 5.
Previously, Colorado was one of a small minority of states where repeat drunken drivers could only be charged with a misdemeanor no matter how times they’d been convicted of the crime. Now, a person faces the felony charge after three previous DUI convictions.
“I’m not a daily drinker,” Neal told Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely. “I’m more of a binge drinker.”
Police first received a report about Neal at 10:18 p.m., when an employee of Stubbie’s Bar in Basalt called a drunken-driver hotline to report him, according to an arrest affidavit filed in Pitkin County District Court. The employee later told deputies she served Neal and his friend one beer, then learned that Neal urinated in the sink of the bar’s bathroom and asked them to leave, the affidavit states.
The employee told police she saw Neal drive away and was concerned he wasn’t sober.
A Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy pulled him over and immediately noticed an odor of alcohol coming from Neal as well as his bloodshot, watery eyes and slurred speech, the affidavit states.
Neal was unsteady on his feet when he exited his car, then kept walking toward the traffic lanes of Highway 82 during sobriety tests, according to the affidavit. Neal “became more and more uncooperative” until he finally “put his hands behind his back and said, ‘Just arrest me then!’” Deputy Anthony Todaro wrote in the affidavit.
Neal refused to perform other tests, and then at Aspen Valley Hospital he refused to allow his blood to be drawn. Refusing such a test means a person’s license will be automatically suspended for a year.
“I don’t care, take my license,” Neal told the deputy, according to the affidavit.
Neal was convicted of DWAI in Adams County in 1998 and in Glenwood Springs in 2000, according to the affidavit. He was convicted of DUI in Glenwood Springs in 2000 and in Garfield County in 2007 and 2013, according to the affidavit.
However, prosecutor Michael Warren told Ely he could find evidence of four previous convictions, the most recent in 2010.
Either way, Neal faces two to six years in prison if convicted of the latest felony charge. He told the judge he’s previously been through a six-month treatment program.
“I’ve been doing pretty well,” he said. “I just made a terrible mistake last night.”
Ely set a $1,000 bond for Neal, though he will be monitored for sobriety if he posts it.
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