Robin Abcarian
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Bree Walker talks about her sobriety, her arrest, and that mug shot

Crime, Law and JusticeDrunk DrivingCrimeNick NolteCindy SheehanGary Busey

On Monday morning, Bree Walker opened the door of her home in Venice and ushered me in. Her very blond, slightly messy hair was tumbling out of a bun on top of her head. Her face was bare, as were her feet. She wore a loose-fitting pair of polka dot drawstring pajama bottoms and a purple sweatshirt over a blue satin shirt. Very Westside hot mom.

She seemed to have a tattoo on her extremely taut lower abdomen, which was peeking from her shirt. Her gait was slightly unsteady.

“I am nervous about coverage these days,” said Walker, a high-profile television news anchor in Los Angeles from 1988 to 1994 who was arrested last week on suspicion of driving under the influence. “I didn’t expect this story would have traction. I feel like I have been in shock and don’t trust the decisions that I am making even though I am trying to be lucid.”

Over the course of a two-hour conversation, she seemed entirely lucid, particularly in light of the unfortunate personal situation that had suddenly thrust her into the headlines.

Last Tuesday, Walker said, she had been in San Diego, where her son, Aaron, lives. While driving home on Interstate 5 with her 5-year-old pit bull, Petey, she missed the turnoff for the 405 Freeway. Trying to make her way to the 405, she ended up on surface streets in Anaheim.

It was just after midnight on Wednesday when police there pulled her over for a red-light violation. They said she seemed disheveled and noticed an empty vodka bottle in her car. She failed a field sobriety test, but would not submit to a Breathalyzer, said police, who handcuffed her and took her into custody.

She spent the night in jail; Petey went to the animal shelter. Her Fiat 500c -- the “Peteymobile”-- was impounded.

Walker had no idea that her arrest, and her mug shot, were about to blow up. Nor did it occur to her to try to spin the news.

“When they offered me a phone call, I couldn’t even make one. There was no one I wanted to see me in my shame,” she said, sitting at a desk in her living room. Her desk was covered in circulars – pitches from pizza joints and DUI attorneys.

“I’m embarrassed and humiliated and ashamed of myself,” she said, holding up a flier from a well-known DUI attorney proclaiming, “Friends don’t let friends plead guilty.”

She said she had been afraid to look at her mug shot.

“Is it that bad?” she asked. An ex-boyfriend, she said, had called her to inform her that “in the world of mug shots, you are up there with Gary Busey.”

Her response: “That’s why you’re an ex-boyfriend.”

(Not that it matters, but I think he probably meant Nick Nolte, whose infamous arrest photo is the gold standard for bad mug shots.)

She screwed up the courage to look at the photo, which shows a very taut face, and full lips that many have speculated are surgically enhanced, which she denies. (“So look at my baby pictures,” she said. “They’re online. My lips are full. I think they look fuller because I am thin.”)

She stared at the photo.

“That looks like me, unhappy,” she said. And then, not entirely incorrectly, she added, “I look like Steven Tyler.”

Walker, who says she is an alcoholic, got sober in 2007. At the time, she announced she was voluntarily entering rehab. She told me she spent 30 days at a Promises facility in Venice. Last week’s apparent relapse, combined with the unflattering mug shot, made her personal lapse into a national news story. Walker said she was stunned by the attention, which she called “an aberrant explosion.” She has also been heartened by the number of old friends who have called to offer support.

Until last week, Walker’s biggest brush with scandal came in 1990 after she fell in love with her co-anchor, Jim Lampley, while both were married to others. They anchored the news for several years as a married couple.

“I thought I’d done a good job being anonymous,” said Walker, who turns 61 on Wednesday, and has been largely out of the public eye for years. “You can choose to be invisible … though apparently I can’t.”

As we talked in her living room and on her sunny front porch, where Petey was sunning, she seemed alternately horrified, philosophical and bemused about her predicament. It seemed clear to me that having walked away from a remarkable career, Walker is struggling to find her place in the world.

“I’m very much an emblem of how women have to redefine themselves without the luxury of a job or a career anymore,” she said. “No one teaches women how to retire from being a mother. When women approach this stage of life and they’re not exactly in tune with the male world, life is a conundrum.”

In the late 1990s, she and Lampley, now best known as HBO’s boxing commentator, owned a production company together and opened a couple of restaurants in Park City, Utah. She stepped away from the news business, she said, because he wanted her to stay at home with the children, who are now adults. Their marriage fell apart in 2000.

Since then, she has hosted a weekend talk radio show, appeared on the HBO series “Carnivale,” about a traveling Depression-era freak show, and made a bit of news when she purchased a Texas property near the Crawford home of former President George W. Bush from antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan, who had named it “Camp Casey” for her son who died in the Iraq war.

“What do I do every day?” she said. “I push paper. I try not to screw up. Like a lot of women who have raised kids and finished their careers, you’ve completed a life, but we have so much more to offer.

“Everything about your life accumulates. The minute you think you’ve got it all handled is exactly when something jumps up and bites you in the ass. It’s easy to forget that. That’s the hubris of being human.”

Walker spent Monday investigating rehab programs. “This makes me feel like I’m starting over again with a first step,” she said, sighing. “I’m not embarrassed to say that.”

Walker will always be remembered as a newswoman who not only presided over a popular newscast in the golden age of local television, but as a ground-breaking, high-profile role model and activist for the disabled. Working in a milieu that demanded physical perfection, particularly of women, her TV success seemed unimpeded by the congenital physical condition that left her with malformed hands and feet. Called ectodactyly, it is the reason she seems a bit unsteady on her feet.

As for that mug shot, it's pretty ironic that someone who has not felt the need to hide her malformed hands and feet is now being judged because she has a face that would not be out of place among the pillowy lips and cosmetic enhancements on display at lunchtime in any Beverly Hills bistro.

Not that you'd find Walker in Beverly Hills.

“I’m a die-hard Venice person now,” she said. “It’s the whole freaky factor that goes with me because of my hands and feet. In Venice, I don’t feel that freaky.”

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Twitter: @robinabcarian

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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