Retired soap actress Jensen Buchanan, 55, pleaded guilty Friday to driving under the influence, crashing into and seriously injuring a driver on Highway 154, and she now faces the possibility of a year in County Jail.
Buchanan originally pleaded not guilty in October after being charged with DUI causing injury, and felony DUI with a blood alcohol content of over 0.08 causing injury, plus special allegations.
Her possible sentence could include five years of probation plus up to 365 days in County Jail.
Judge James Voysey reminded Buchanan that the sentence was conditional, meaning that it may change after the court hears about victim Bradley Asolas' medical conditions during the sentencing hearing set for Oct. 6.
Asolas and his wife, Sandy, said they were shocked and appalled at the outcome of Friday's hearing.
"I think it's wrong. My life's forever changed, and she got off with a slap on the wrist," Asolas said. "When I drive now, I always wonder, if I'm involved in a crash again where the airbags break out and my heart gives out again, I can actually die this time."
His wife added: "She drank, hit my husband and he almost died and I had to sit through that, watch him go through that, and all of our lives are changed forever."
Buchanan, known for her roles on soaps such as "One Life to Live," "Another World" and "The Young and the Restless," reportedly crossed the double yellow line on the highway May 18, 2016, and slammed head-on into Asolas. He suffered serious injuries and had to be flown to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
For the last several months, both sides were far from reaching a deal, as the prosecution had sought for prison time, while the defense pressed for probation's recommendations of a year in County Jail and five years probation.
Before Buchanan pleaded guilty, Deputy District Attorney Jon Kawashima reminded the court "this case has severe consequences that involve severe conduct that resulted in lifelong injuries to Mr. Bradley Asolas."
Buchanan had a blood alcohol content level of 0.34 when she drove on the wrong side of the road on a "very dangerous highway," said Kawashima, arguing her case warranted prison time.
Asolas is expected to share how he's suffered as a result of the crash during the sentencing hearing. During that time, if the court is compelled to modify the sentence, Buchanan has the option of withdrawing her plea.
The crash left Asolas with a shattered femur, pelvis, humerus, two broken ribs, lacerations in his liver, spleen and pancreas, just to name a few of the injuries he sustained. Nearly half of his heart muscle died and parts of his spinal column were broken. Cardiac problems developed soon after the crash that further complicated his road to recovery.
"Ms. Buchanan has the option of setting the reset button and we start over. I believe that's not fair to the victim in this case," Kawashima said. "He doesn't have the ability to push a reset button himself; Mr. Asolas doesn't get to say, 'OK, let's just move forward.'"
"I don't believe this is an appropriate indicated sentence, and I don't believe it's appropriate to let Ms. Buchanan withdraw her plea in that event the court changes its mind."
If Buchanan were to be involved in a DUI crash again, resulting in someone's death, she can be charged with murder and face a life sentence under the Watson rule.
"[The judge] was swayed by probation's recommendation that she be allowed to do probation with County Jail time rather than prison," said Buchanan's attorney Dmitry Gorin after court. "She's looking to do some significant custody time as a result of this sentence. She's expressed great remorse over what happened.
"We believe the judge's decision is supported based on all facts, circumstances, probation report and everything that Ms. Buchanan did to show her commitment to sobriety."
Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210
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