Joseph Burt Felz, a former city manager of Fullerton, California, could be jailed for up to one year in the county jail for allegedly committing two misdemeanor offenses. The allegations are that he was driving under the influence of alcohol and committed a hit-and-run causing property damage.
The accident happened in one of the neighborhoods of Fullerton city in November 2016, when a car jumped off the road, over a curb, hit a tree, and got stuck in rain gutters near a lawn. A witness called the police and said that she was afraid the driver would run away because he was trying to drive away. The car managed to get free and leave the scene of the accident just before the police arrived. The hit-and-run vehicle was pulled over a few blocks away and the police found J. B. Felz behind the wheel of the car. At the time, Mr. Felz was employed as a city manager.
After the accident in November, the City Attorney’s Office hired an independent firm to carry out an investigation. At that time, Council representatives claimed that they would look into all possible evidence to come up with the most accurate information about the events of that night, including interviewing neighbors, watching records from surveillance cameras, etc. They promised that the procedure wouldn’t be different only because a city official is involved and Mr. Felz would be treated like any other citizen who is suspected of committing a crime.
Many citizens were concerned that the City Attorney’s Office’s attitude toward Mr. Felz’s case was unfair and not objective. They believe, if it were someone else, not a local authority, the City Attorney would have immediately arrested Mr. Felz and filed charges for a DUI and hit-and-run.
As stated in the police report, the officers conducted a field sobriety test and found no grounds to arrest the driver. Mr. Felz didn’t show signs of impaired driving, though officers noticed that Mr. Felz smelled of alcohol and was suspected of consuming alcohol. His colleague admitted he and Felz had a beer at lunchtime, but Felz seemed perfectly in control of himself and his senses. There are actually no recordings of the results of the field breathalyzer test in the police report.
Felz was not in charge of city management when the investigation was pending last year. Soon after the incident, he announced that he will retire, saying that he would prefer to spend more time with his family. He did not make it clear if the alleged DUI crash was one of the reasons for his retirement.
In California, it’s illegal to leave the scene of an accident even if the accident caused only property damage. The prosecutor charged Mr. Felz with drunk driving and hit-and-run involving property damage and is scheduled to appear in court on April 3, 2017
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