Never get behind the wheel after even one drink. That’s one of the first things court-appointed counselors tell clients following a first conviction for driving under the influence.
It’s a vicious cycle, they say, and after that first conviction—with its 10-year probationary period and the added scrutiny from patrol officers—it’s relatively easy to find yourself a multiple offender in no time at all.
Twenty-year-old Jacob Ellis knows this all too well, thanks to a bizarre sequence of events during one booze-tinged night.
Ellis, a San Luis Obispo resident and student at Cuesta College, who had one prior DUI conviction from 2010, suddenly found himself a possible “three-timer” after being arrested for the crime again—this time twice in close succession.
It’s a situation one local California Highway Patrol official called “very rare,” but not unheard of.
Ellis is fighting the charges after his attorney and he raised questions about his early release from SLO County Jail and the role a local towing company played in his arrest.
Though Ellis didn’t dispute that he drank alcohol on the night of March 11, he told New Times he wasn’t drunk when he was stopped after picking up some fast food, much less the second time around four hours later.
Here’s how it all went down: According to police reports, at approximately 11:15 p.m. on March 11, Ellis was driving his Ford Ranger northbound on Santa Rosa Street, just south of Murray Street. A CHP officer allegedly witnessed Ellis’ vehicle drift into the bike lane.
According to the officer’s report, Ellis admitted that he had consumed “two beers” but had stopped drinking “two hours ago.” The officer noted that he was compliant, saying he was returning to his father’s home after picking up some Taco Bell.
The young man allegedly performed poorly on the field sobriety test and blew a .166, then a .148 on a breath test. The legal limit for a person 21 years or older in the State of California is .08; for a person younger than 21, that limit
Ellis was booked into County Jail. However, while most people booked for misdemeanor drunk driving charges are held for at least four hours—enough time to sober up a bit—Ellis was released after less than two hours when his father came to pick him up.
According to a second police report, CHP dispatchers received a call from an employee at San Luis Obispo-based Bob Holzer’s Towing, saying an intoxicated man called in to say he was en route to pick up his car from the yard. The employee tipped off the police out of “concern for public safety,” the report states.
After Ellis and his father bailed out the car, a CHP unit was waiting, and pulled him over again after allegedly witnessing him cross into a bike lane and bump a curb. A second breath tests showed blood alcohol results of .096 and .095.
But the police never got the chance to tow the car the second time around, as Ellis’ father was following behind, and the officers gave him the keys.
On April 11, Ellis’ attorney, Guy Gallambos, entered pleas of not guilty to all charges of drunk driving and driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher. Gallambos told New Times they’re fighting some of the extenuating circumstances in the case, but declined to give further details. Ellis’ father declined to discuss the issue.
The repercussions are steep this time around. Ellis, if found guilty, is at risk of serious jail time, losing his license for a couple of years, and he could be on the hook for thousands of dollars in court fines and alcohol class costs.
An employee at Bob Holzer’s Towing—who wouldn’t provide his last name because he didn’t “want to get sued”—said he wasn’t the employee who took the call that night, but he was familiar with how Ellis’ situation went down.
The employee said there’s no collusion between the CHP and their business to make more money, adding that law enforcement agencies call towing companies in rotations so there’s no appearance of favoritism with a specific company or appearance of conflict of interest. Also, he pointed out, the company never got the chance to tow Ellis’ vehicle the second time around, because the man’s father was present.
“Usually, people will come in the next morning to pick up [their car],” he said. “This guy came in after just two hours with his dad, which is unusual.”
According to California Highway Patrol Capt. Bill Vail, while Ellis’ situation is unique, it’s not unheard of, especially in rural areas. Vail, whose agency conducts the majority of DUI stops and field sobriety tests in SLO County, said he has never before seen the same circumstance in SLO County.
“They normally occur in rural areas … somewhere where the booking facility may be an hour or two away,” Vail told New Times. “If the resources are not available, it isn’t cost effective to drive them all the way over there to be booked.”
In those cases, Vail said, they rely on a “responsible adult” to take the alleged offender home, with the orders not to let them drive. But the suspects may get back behind the wheel on the same night, he said.
“Sometimes we get people who get [a second DUI] only a couple days after, but not in the same night like this,” Vail said.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, DUI arrests have remained more or less steady across SLO County in recent years—typically between 2,400 and 2,600 a year—with a slight decrease in 2010.
Meanwhile, Ellis, who believes that he got a raw deal the morning of March 12, has proactively begun attending alcohol groups as he awaits a trial.
Staff Writer Matt Fountain can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.