UC driver pleads guilty in cab driver’s death

March 25, 2006 No Comments

On the third day of his preliminary hearing, Anthony Michael Valanos unexpectedly pleaded guilty on Aug. 30 to vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and faces 11 years in state prison for killing a taxicab driver in Pacific Beach.

Valanos, 26, a loan officer who resides in University City, admitted the allegation of hit and run by leaving his damaged BMW near an overturned taxicab with the driver, Zeki Muhammed Tovi, 38, pinned inside. Tovi died inside his cab at midnight March 25 on Haines Street. Valanos ran a stop sign at Thomas Avenue and struck Tovi’s vehicle.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Michael Wellington set sentencing for Oct. 25. He turned down a request from the prosecutor and two deputy city attorneys to remand Valanos to jail, and allowed him to remain free on $1 million bond with numerous conditions.

A murder charge and drunk-driving charges were dropped in a plea agreement with the District Attorney’s office. Deputy District Attorney Sophia Roach said probation is ruled out and Valanos will go to prison.

Valanos surrendered his driver’s license, and agreed to live with his parents in San Clemente. He was told to not drink any alcohol, even at his parents’ home, and that he must submit to a drug/alcohol test at any time by authorities. He is barred from driving a motorcycle, a scooter or even a motorized skateboard.

The judge told Valanos to attend two meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous per week, which brought an objection by his attorney, Myles Berman. Berman said, “I don’t think AA will amount to anything,” and added that since Valanos has surrendered his driver’s license, he has no way to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Wellington responded there are many people at AA meetings who don’t have driver’s licenses and they get to their meetings all the time. The judge said he wanted Valanos to supply proof of attendance at these meetings. He also ordered that Valanos’ residence be subject to search at any time.

As part of her argument to remand Valanos back to jail, Roach told the judge that Valanos was on probation for drunk driving following a 2003 incident on Montezuma Road. A 180-day jail term was suspended, and it may be added to Valanos’ sentence.

Roach said Valanos’ driving had a pattern of “showing off, speeding up, slamming on the brakes.” Roach cited four speeding tickets Valanos had received, the last one in January.

“He needs to be taken off the street,” Deputy City Attorney Tracy Rogers said.

“The bail was set very high. I’m inclined to let him wrap up his affairs,” the judge said.

Afterward, Roach was asked if she was satisfied with the case’s resolution.

“I’m satisfied with the change of plea,” she said. “It fits the evidence we would be able to prove at trial.”

Because Valanos fled the scene with his two passengers, he never took a blood/alcohol test to show he had been drinking when he slammed into the taxicab. He was charged with drunk driving on the basis of statements from others and himself afterward, but there was no physical test conducted because he fled the scene.

Police officer Michael Brindell testified he interviewed Valanos in his University City apartment after Valanos claimed his car was stolen. Valanos was drinking at Moondoggies and claimed he might have left his car keys on a table because he recalled showing his friends a bottle opener on his key ring.

Valanos told Brindell and another officer he parked at a pay parking lot, but he didn’t attempt to drive home. Brindell said Valanos told him he “had too much to drink and didn’t want to drive.” Valanos returned the next day and saw his car missing from the parking lot and reported it stolen, Brindell testified.

Brindell said he had “vague suspicions” the car wasn’t stolen and that Valanos had been behind the wheel when the cab driver was killed. But he did not ask Valanos anything about that while Valanos filled out the stolen car form.

Valanos pleaded guilty two days after he heard one of his passengers, Adam Combs, 24, tell the judge he warned Valanos to slow down before he ran the stop sign and hit the cab driver.

Source: Beach and Bay Press

Bars and Restaurants, Drunk Drivers, Hit and Run

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