Monday, December 10, 2007

Hulsey pleads no contest


After more than a year of court proceedings, Heather Lea Hulsey avoided a jury trial yesterday by pleading no contest in Superior Court to two felony charges in connection with the July 28, 2006 hit-and-run death of Dr. Ronald Shlensky.
Of the eight charges filed against Hulsey by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, Hulsey admitted to vehicular manslaughter while driving under the influence of alcohol without gross negligence and to fleeing the scene of an accident knowing that a person was injured.

“I’m happy that it’s resolved,” said Senior Deputy District Attorney Arnis Tolks, the prosecutor in the case. “I’m sure the Shlensky family is relieved this part of the process is over.”
Tolks said a sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 11, where members of the Hulsey and Shlensky family will likely testify, as will the prosecution and defense. He said Judge Frank Ochoa could hand down a sentence that could range from a maximum sentence of nine years in state prison, or a minimum punishment of probation.
Tolks said the Probation Department would present their own sentencing report at the hearing.
If part of Hulsey’s plea had included gross negligence, which was one of the original charges filed, Tolks said a possible sentence could have carried an additional 15 to 16 years behind bars.
The charges, which prior to yesterday included four felonies, three infractions and one allegation, stemmed from the death of Shlensky, who was struck by Hulsey’s 2004 Toyota 4Runner on July 27.
Hulsey, 22, told police she struck Shlensky when she reached down to retrieve her cell phone from the floor of her vehicle.
While Hulsey drove on, Shlensky remained on Knapp Drive in Montecito bleeding. Neighbors found Shlensky at about 6 p.m. and he died the next day in Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital from what an autopsy called “blunt-force type injuries consistent with being struck by a vehicle.”
Both Shlensky and Hulsey resided on Knapp Drive at the time of the incident. Hulsey was arrested on Aug. 7, 2006.
Hulsey initially pleaded innocent to all of the charges and after a preliminary hearing last March, Judge Joseph Lodge said sufficient evidence existed to warrant a trial.
But while the lull between a preliminary hearing and trial is often quiet for a defendant, it was anything but that for Hulsey.
On May 20, UC Santa Barbara Police arrested her for public intoxication.
As a result of the arrest, Tolks asked the court to increase Hulsey’s bail to $250,000 and told Ochoa during a June 4 hearing that Hulsey had a “Severe, severe alcohol problem.”
Ochoa agreed calling Hulsey’s drinking patterns at that time a “justifiable concern” for the community. He then increased the bail and ordered Hulsey be taken into custody.
On July 16, after Hulsey had spent more than a month in county jail, Ochoa reduced her bail to its original amount of $50,000.
But on condition of the reduction in bail, Ochoa mandated that Hulsey be released into the custody of Casa Serena, where she could undergo testing and treatment.
Tolks said Boulet told the court yesterday that Hulsey has continued to reside in Casa Serena.
But along with Hulsey’s plea came the revelation that Hulsey had missed a number of blood alcohol tests in recent months.
Tolks said missing such tests would be a violation of Hulsey’s bail agreement, but that Boulet told the court there was an explanation.
Messages left for Boulet by the Daily Sound were not immediately returned and attempts to reach Shlensky’s daughter, Sheba Laser Lux, for comment were unsuccessful.

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