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Ex-Prosecutor Charged in Traffic Death

Times Staff Writer

Felony charges of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and driving while intoxicated were filed Thursday against former Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles Van Dusen by the state attorney general’s office.

The charges stem from a Sept. 2 traffic collision in Valley Center that killed Carol Benson, a 45-year-old Escondido resident who taught school in Pauma Valley.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Jeffrey Koch said Van Dusen, 37, was not charged with second-degree murder because there was no evidence that he believed he was a danger to others, a requisite finding for a conviction of second-degree murder.

At the time of the crash, Van Dusen’s blood alcohol level was measured at 0.20%. A level of 0.10% is legally intoxicated.

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Concealed, Loaded Weapon

Van Dusen was also charged with two misdemeanor counts of carrying an unlicensed, concealed and loaded weapon in his car.

Van Dusen, who resigned from the district attorney’s office 20 days after the crash, will be arraigned Oct. 31 in San Diego Municipal Court. If convicted of the most serious of the charges--vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence--Van Dusen could be sentenced to a maximum of eight years in prison.

No plea bargain was offered Van Dusen before the filing of charges Thursday, Koch said, “and we will make no reduction in charges, nor will we participate in any sentence bargaining. This is considered a serious felony and plea bargaining is restricted.”

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Koch said his office decided to charge Van Dusen with gross negligence “because there was evidence which seems to indicate the driving was with gross negligence, just immediately prior to the accident . . . based on physical evidence.”

Van Dusen’s attorney, Richard Mills, said his client was relieved that second-degree murder charges were not filed and said he was anxious for the matter to be resolved in court as soon as possible.

‘Get It Behind Us’

Mills said his client “does not have a defense” to the charges of driving while intoxicated. “We know he’ll have to serve a substantial amount of time in custody, and we want to get it behind us,” Mills said.

The defense, Mills said, would focus on the appropriateness of the gross-negligence charge. “They have a chance of winning, and we have a chance of winning,” Mills said. “There is no adequate definition for gross negligence. It’s not defined in the codes or in jury instructions. It’s one of those things that you know it when you see it.”

The crash occurred on Cole Grade Road in Valley Center shortly after noon Sept. 2. According to the California Highway Patrol, Van Dusen apparently lost control of his Chevrolet Corvette after passing a truck and struck a car being driven by Bensen, who was returning to her home in Escondido after preparing her classroom for the beginning of school the following week. Bensen died at the scene of massive injuries.

Van Dusen received minor injuries and his wife, Susan, a passenger in the car, was uninjured.

Shopping Trip

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Van Dusen said he had been grieving over his wife’s miscarriage earlier in the week, had taken two days off from work, and had been drinking the night before the crash, Mills said. But Van Dusen had not been drinking that morning, Mills said; the couple had been shopping in Escondido, where they live, and were returning to his parents’ home.

Van Dusen joined the district attorney’s office in 1985 and was assigned to the Vista office. In his resignation letter to Dist. Atty. Ed Miller, Van Dusen wrote:

“I know that my ability to work as a prosecutor has been compromised. I also believe my continued presence as a deputy district attorney would make it more difficult for other prosecutors to work effectively. I believe this would not be fair to the family of Carol Bensen or to the office of the district attorney.”

Van Dusen remains free on his own recognizance.


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