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Drunk-Driving Case Puts Rocker on Trial

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Does the band Guns N’ Roses play rock ‘n’ roll or heavy metal?

“Heavy metal has a negative connotation,” said defense attorney Robert Ernenwein. “I prefer rock ‘n’ roll.”

A judge agreed, and 35 Ventura County residents in the Ventura Municipal Court jury pool were told Monday that Darren (Dizzy) Reed plays rock ‘n’ roll. With that legal question settled, a jury of five women and seven men began hearing Ventura County’s own celebrity criminal trial.

Reed, 32, of Thousand Oaks is a keyboard player for the popular Guns N’ Roses rock group, led by Axl Rose. Reed was arrested Feb. 9 on the Moorpark Freeway near the Ventura Freeway off-ramp.

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The charge: drunk driving. His plea: not guilty. His defense: His friend was driving and pulled over to vomit when the California Highway Patrol happened on the scene.

The prosecution contends otherwise. The trial to settle the matter is expected to last the week.

A bevy of Hall of Justice workers and a few fans shuttled in and out of the courtroom Monday afternoon, staying long enough to catch a glimpse of Reed and a snippet of testimony.

“I have a few lyrics I would like to give him,” said Steven LaFreniere of Camarillo, who called himself a “big fan” of the rock band. The 25-year-old LaFreniere was in the courtroom next door with a friend when he learned of the trial.

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“This is sort of like Ventura County’s own O.J. trial,” he said.

Dressed in black jeans and cowboy boots, Reed’s wire-rimmed glasses were the only thing that belied his rock ‘n’ roll presence. A gold earring dangled from his right earlobe, and three silver bracelets dangled from his right wrist.

His long brown hair reached the middle of his back, and his long-sleeved silk shirt was rolled up above the elbows, betraying a large tattoo on his right bicep that read “The wild shall the wild remain.”

And by all accounts, the early morning hours of Feb. 8 made for a wild night for Reed, who owns a house on Country Club Road.

Both sides agree that it began with a band practice and drinking session at a North Hollywood studio that lasted past midnight. Reed and roommate Sean Riggs--a Guns N’ Roses studio drummer--left the practice and continued drinking at the Yucatan Cantina on Thousand Oaks Boulevard in Westlake Village.

When Reed was arrested about 4 a.m., he registered a 0.25 blood-alcohol level, more than three times the legal limit. Nobody disputes Reed was drunk that morning.

“If an officer asked him if he was Elvis Presley, he would have said yes,” Ernenwein told the jury during his opening statement. “That’s how intoxicated he was.”

Deputy Dist. Atty. Mike Flory agreed that Reed was not “the most coherent individual at a [blood-alcohol level of] 0.25.” But Flory told the jury Reed was behind the wheel that morning.

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With that, Flory called CHP Officer Philip Meschke to the stand. Meschke arrested Reed.

Meschke said he watched Reed’s blue Chevrolet Blazer move slowly about 18 feet along the emergency lane before stopping. Before Meschke and his partner were able to get to the Blazer, Meschke said he saw Reed get out by the driver’s door and walk to the rear of the vehicle.

He said Reed returned to the driver’s seat by the time Meschke got to the Blazer. "[Reed] said he was drinking beer,” Meschke said. “He said he had about three or four.”

Ernenwein attempted to poke holes in Meschke’s testimony, which often appeared contradictory.

The defense attorney pointed out that Meschke testified at an earlier proceeding that he watched the Blazer move only six feet before stopping. Ernenwein also pointed out that Meschke omitted talking to John Taylor the morning of the arrest.

Taylor is the bar manager of the Yucatan Cantina and Ernenwein said he will testify that Riggs was driving when the duo left the bar. Taylor was driving along the Moorpark Freeway when he came upon Reed’s Blazer and stopped to offer assistance, the attorney said.

Meschke’s testimony was scheduled to continue this morning.


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