A Simi Valley man pleaded guilty Thursday to vehicular manslaughter and drunk driving just eight days after he was arrested in connection with a fiery crash that took the life of a 26-year-old Thousand Oaks woman.
Glen James Paton, 29, entered guilty pleas to gross negligence vehicular manslaughter and felony drunk driving during his arraignment.
Usually, defendants such as Paton plead innocent at arraignment, even if they plan to plead guilty later to avoid a trial, attorneys in the case said.
But Paton issued a statement through his attorney saying that he pleaded guilty as soon as possible to spare the victim’s family further grief.
“I want to tell the family of Samantha Huntley that I am truly very sorry that I caused her death because of my irresponsible act of driving while drunk,” Paton’s statement read.
“While nothing I can do will bring Samantha Huntley back to life, I hope that my guilty plea will send a message to others who might consider driving after drinking alcoholic beverages; it is wrong and the punishment is jail or prison time.”
Paton, a construction worker who moved to Simi Valley from Canada three years ago, faces 10 years, 8 months when sentenced on Feb. 1.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Donald C. Glynn said prosecutors did not enter into a plea bargain with Paton. The pleas, he said, were strictly voluntary and appear to have resulted from the evidence collected.
“I think the defendant just didn’t want to go through the aggravation of a trial with the evidence being pretty conclusive,” Glynn said.
Public Defender Joseph P. Villasana said Paton’s remorse seems sincere.
Villasana said the defense will ask that Paton not receive the maximum sentence on the basis of that remorse and the early plea. He declined to say what sentence he thought would be appropriate.
“He feels a great deal of remorse for the victim’s family,” the public defender said, adding that Paton would try to enter an alcohol treatment and education program while in the Ventura County Jail prior to sentencing.
Huntley’s relatives could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Linda Finnerty, executive director of the Ventura County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said no one associated with the group could recall a defendant in the county pleading guilty in a drunk-driving fatality case so early in the court process.
“I’m pretty shocked,” Finnerty said. “We’ve never had a case where a defendant has pled at the arraignment stage.”
Still, she noted that Paton was on probation at the time of the crash and said he should have learned his lesson from his earlier case, stemming from a drunk driving arrest on New Year’s Eve, 1991. No one was injured in the incident, but Paton was placed on three years probation.
In the latest case, authorities said Paton had a .22 blood-alcohol level, significantly above the legal limit, when his pickup truck rear-ended Huntley’s car on Tierra Rejada Road just east of the Moorpark Freeway on Dec. 22.
The impact caused Huntley’s car to careen into a utility pole and burst into flames, killing her instantly.
“Even though he feels remorse,” Finnerty said, “it was too late and cost Samantha her life.”