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Students learning from someone else's mistakes
A Willows man was sentenced to nine months in the Glenn County Jail and five years of highly supervised probation on Friday, when the Glenn County Superior Court moved to Hamilton High School.
Eddy Lee Talbert, 56, an Air Force veteran and local food manager, volunteered to have his sentencing held in the school's gymnasium so that hundreds of teenagers might learn from his mistake.
His was one of two sentence hearings held at the school to teach students the real-life consequences of driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Talbert was arrested on April 16 at the Willows McDonald's after he failed to pull over for a California Highway Patrol officer on Wood Street, court officials said.
It was his fourth DUI arrest.
Talbert pleaded no contest on July 6 to drunken driving with his 7-year-old son in the front passenger seat, but without a booster seat, and his 14-year-old son in the back seat.
He was facing three years in state prison when he agreed to have his sentencing held during a school alcohol prevention program.
Pedro Gonzolo Sop, 56, of Citrus Heights, also volunteered to have his sentencing held at the school for the same reason.
Sop was arrested by the CHP on County Road 57 after numerous reports came from motorists on Interstate 5 that a car was driving erratically and weaving from one shoulder of the freeway to the other, crossing both lanes of traffic.
Sop, who had seven previous DUI convictions, was sentenced to 6 months in jail and five years of supervised probation.
Friday's court proceeding was made possible by Glenn County Friday Night Live and a grant from the Office of Traffic Safety.
The program allowed students to witness the same kind of an DUI sentencing that occurs almost daily in Glenn County Superior Court.
"I like that it is real life," said Hamilton High junior Emily Bogart, 16. "I think it is good program to have, so students can learn about the consequences of drunk driving."
Bogart said she is looking forward to seeing her first Every 15 Minutes Program, which will be held at Hamilton High in the spring.
"I think we should have more programs like this," she said.
Law enforcement officials at the sentencing said they hope students watching the proceedings have a memorable experience they can keep as a practical reference for the future.
"Underage drinking is huge problem in our society," said Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones, a 1968 graduate of Hamilton High School.
Students fought back tears when Alcohol Prevention Specialist Lynne Goodwin talked about losing her own daughter in an alcohol-related collision in 2003.
Casey Goodwin, 20, was once active in alcohol prevention programs at her high school in Tulare County and Cal Poly San Luis Obisbo where she attending college. She was hit head-on by 18-year-old Fernando Ochoa, who was reportedly driving 90 mph when he swerved into Goodwin's lane.
Goodwin died the next day of massive injuries.
Ochoa, whose blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit, was sentenced to 10 years in state prison for vehicular manslaughter.
"You have to be deliberate about where you want to go in life," Lynne Goodwin said. "So you have to make every decision count so your life can get you there."
Following the proceedings, many students signed their names to Casey's Pledge — a promise to stay alcohol-free or never drink and drive, and never get into a car with a driver who has been drinking.
Willows High School students signed the same pledge in May, following a similar program.
Brandon Jacobo, 15, a Hamilton sophomore, said students need programs like this to remind them of the consequences of drinking and driving.
However, he thought Talbert and Sop were let off with too light of sentences for multiple drunken driving convictions.
"I think they should be in a more secure place where they can't hurt anyone," Jacobo said. "Like prison."
Judge Peter Twede said in addition to probation, the sentences includes thousands of dollars in fines, fees and restitution, community service and GPS monitoring.
Talbert and Sop will be required to successfully complete alcohol treatment programs, maintain employment and be productive members of society.
"Our drug court is a successful drug court," Twede said. "Treatment is the necessary treatment for drunk driving."
Jones said humiliation and grief tends to follow those convicted of drinking and driving, and he hoped all the students got that message.
The year after Jones graduated, a schoolmate was killed on Highway 32 in an alcohol-related collision.
His passenger, another student, was seriously injured.