During an emotional hearing Friday that left a judge shaken, a veteran soap star, who reportedly drove on the wrong side of Highway 154 and into the path of an Arizona driver, nearly killing him, was sentenced to one year in County Jail and five years probation for the DUI crash.
Jensen Buchanan, 55, pleaded guilty last month to driving under the influence causing injury, felony DUI with a blood alcohol content of over 0.08 causing injury, plus special allegations after Judge James Voysey indicated he would follow probation's recommendations and not send her to prison.
For the last several months, Buchanan's defense team battled with Deputy District Attorney Jon Kawashima over what would be the proper sentence for Buchanan, who reportedly had no criminal history.
The prosecution sought prison time, while the defense sought probation plus County Jail.
Voysey didn't change his mind Friday, but noted “this wasn’t an easy decision to make.”
After hearing victim impact statements, Voysey interrupted the court for a five-minute break so he could compose himself, as he, too, was visibly shaken.
Victim Bradley Asolas and his wife, Sandy, faced Buchanan for the first time since the May 2016 crash, pleading with Voysey to give her the maximum prison sentence, as the family incurred emotional distress, post-traumatic stress disorder, physical and financial damages.
Bradley led an active life -- hiking, doing yard work -- with his wife before Buchanan decided to get behind the wheel and drive on the wrong side of the road for a half-mile, he said.
The crash left a two-page list of injuries he sustained, including a ruptured spleen, shattered pelvis, lacerations in his liver, a collapsed lung, pulmonary embolism, just to name a few, Bradley told the court. Half of his heart died and he may need a transplant. The doctors couldn’t operate on his legs for eight days after he was hospitalized just so they could focus on keeping him alive. His femur and knees will never recover.
“The list goes on. My body is battered from all this,” said Bradley, crying. “I’ve always been a pretty positive guy, but this just beat me down so much.”
He said he now must use a cane and can't go shopping or walking without getting tired.
Bradley is taking 80 to 90 milligrams of opioids a day and said he's now addicted.
"I'm on meds for life," he said.
Along with physical injuries, the Asolas family also sustained significant financial loss.
Bradley can't physically work, and a heart transplant would leave them destitute, he said. The family also had to sell their two-story home because Bradley physically couldn't walk up the stairs.
“Even though I didn’t die, in a real sense, she took away my life because now, I’m going to die probably sooner than I would have,” he said.
Bradley's wife, Sandy, tearfully begged the judge for prison time. She recalled the phone call Bradley made as he said, "Honey, I've been in an accident," before he blacked out.
"To me, it was him saying goodbye," Sandy said. "That voice will never leave my mind; I hear it every day. Jensen did this to him, our kids and grandchildren.
"I told my kids if he did die, I was going with him.”
Buchanan was given a chance to address the family, when she read aloud an emotional letter she'd written to Bradley.
Buchanan was visibly remorseful, having difficulty choking out the words, "I am the drunk driver who hit you, who caused tremendous, emotional pain and suffering. I am the one who made the tragic choice to drink and drive."
“I’m deeply sorry for all the pain I caused all of you."
Buchanan also pledged to remain sober for the rest of her life, remain in AA and that no jail time would ever match the knowledge of what she did to Bradley.
She continued: “You may never want to see me again, but I want you to know if you ever do want to see or talk to me, I’m here. If you want to yell at me, curse at me, pray with me, I’m here.”
Afterward, defense lawyer Josh Lynn argued Buchanan had been compliant with treatment, paid $5 million in restitution and urged the court to follow probation's recommendation. Kawashima fought for prison, reminding the judge that Bradley could have died, and that Buchanan had admitted she drove with a BAC over 0.08 in the past.
“The court is gravely affected by what it heard today,” Voysey said after hearing both sides. “There are no winners in the case, and everyone is affected by what’s happened.”
He continued: “I could send her to prison and if that in any way could give something back to the family, I’d seriously consider it.
“The reality is, I’m dealing with someone with no prior criminal history,” he said, adding that one infraction will land her in prison for six years.
However, the judge noted, Buchanan suffers from a mental condition -- alcoholism, “a disease and problem in society that must be dealt with.”
“My mind has not been changed, though I’m gravely affected by what I heard,” Voysey said.
As part of her sentence, Buchanan is banned from entering bars, liquor stores, will have her license suspended for a year, enroll in a nine-month DUI program upon release, be subject to search and seizure and pay fines.
As Buchanan was cuffed and remanded into custody, she took one final look back at her supporters, and Bradley. One called out, “Love you, Jensen!”
Outside court, her defense team declined to comment. Bradley slowly made his way to the elevator with his cane, with Sandy following closely behind him, crying.