Zoning administrator pleads innocent to DUI

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Williston Zoning Administrator D.K. Johnston pleaded innocent last Thursday to a charge of driving under the influence.

Vermont District Court Judge Christina Reiss ordered that Johnston be released from the court hearing on standard conditions. Those conditions include no driving without a valid license and no purchasing or consuming alcohol.

Defense attorney Robert J. Kaplan argued to the judge that the prohibition of alcohol did not seem appropriate given that Johnston is “well on his way in life” and has no prior criminal convictions; a more appropriate condition, Kaplan said, would be not driving while under the influence of alcohol. The judge still imposed the condition.

Johnston’s attorney said he had no comment about the case after the hearing.

Johnston is scheduled to appear in district court next month for what is known as a civil suspension hearing. That hearing will determine if Johnston may keep his driver’s license or if it will be suspended. The remainder of the criminal portion of the case may also be addressed during the same hearing, according to prosecutor Justin Jiron.

“There’s a standard offer,” Jiron said, referring in general to a defendant who is convicted for driving under the influence. “Probably a fine, probably some probation, and some alcohol counseling.”

The average fine for a person convicted of driving under the influence (first offense) in Chittenden County was $322 in 2004, according to the Vermont DUI Statistical Resource Book 2005.

At civil suspension hearings, Jiron said, the majority of people do lose their driver’s licenses. Typically licenses are suspended for three months, Jiron said, unless the defendant refused to take a breath test for blood-alcohol content in which case the suspension is often for six months.

Police considered Johnston’s blood-alcohol test a refusal, according to the police affidavit that did not become public until last Thursday. Johnston offered “a small breath of air” twice, according to the affidavit. “ Johnston’s two attempts looked more like ‘puffs’ than a full exhale,” the affidavit reads.

Johnston was arrested by Shelburne police officers on Nov. 24 just before midnight outside of The Furniture Place on Shelburne Road, according to police. Johnston caught the attention of Officer Bruce Beuerlein, according to the police affidavit, because Johnston allegedly was striking the front of the furniture store building with an unknown object. Beuerlein said in the affidavit he could detect a strong odor of intoxicants coming from Johnston and that Johnston’s eyes looked very watery and he swayed slightly. Johnston told the officer he’d had four or five glasses of wine in the preceding two or three hours, according to the affidavit.

Though Johnston was not in his vehicle at the time the police officer approached him, Johnston’s car was running, the affidavit says.

Johnston’s next scheduled court appearance is on Jan. 3 at 2 p.m.