Kurt Duncan Naegele Sentence in Hearst Castle DUI Crash That Killed a Man Satisfies None

No one was happy when Kurt Duncan Naegele was blamed for causing a 2009 car crash near Hearst Castle that injured him, two others and killed a fourth. And they weren't happy when a mistrial was declared in his vehicular manslaughter trial after the defense said it would present evidence showing a different passenger drove. And they weren't happy when he later cut a plea deal--while pursuing a separate civil suit against the targeted passenger.

So why would you expect anyone to be happy that the Newport Beach resident was just sentenced to a year in custody and four years of probation?

"The sentence was so light that it gave everyone that has been following the case massive heartburn and angst across most of the western United States," Ryan Robert Doheny, the man who the Naegele defense implicated as the driver, tells the Weekly in an email.

In reference to San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Michael Duffy allowing Naegele to apply to serve his time as home detention, Doheny sarcastically added, "We have noticed that Whole Foods Markets, Henry's Markets and Sprouts markets are starting to sell out of Axia3 ProDigestive antacid because of the court's decision to give him house arrest."

Meanwhile, Timothy Naegele, the father of the defendant and a Los Angeles lawyer who previously vowed to sue Doheny, maintains his son could have won the criminal case against him.

"Kurt has a wife and three young daughters," Tim Naegele explained in an email of his own. "He decided to settle everything, which I would not have done. Indeed, at least three criminal defense lawyers have told us that he could have won the criminal case against him, because he was not the driver of the vehicle at the time of the tragic accident--Ryan Doheny was. 

"However, Kurt did not want to fight on if there was even a one-percent chance of going to prison, again because of his young family. All of us (including the criminal defense lawyers) understand his decision, and respect him for it."

This will make more sense if we revisit the accident. According to the California Highway Patrol, Naegele, Doheny, Doheny's brother-in-law Darren William Dahlman, 38, of Pasadena, and Christopher H. Pennell of Los Angeles, had been drinking as guests invited to a birthday party on the San Simeon ranch on Sept. 18, 2009.

They drove to the airstrip to find out how fast Naegele's Range Rover could go, something a CHP investigator claims Doheny later told him was a bad idea because it was pitch black out and Naegele was driving very fast and erratically. Around 11 p.m., the Range Rover rolled several times before falling down a steep embankment 300 feet off the runway on the north side of the airstrip.

The crash killed Dahlman, seriously injured Naegele (who had to be extricated from behind the steering wheel) and also injured Pennell and Doheny. Naegele and Doheny estimated to officers that they had been traveling 35 mph at the time of the crash, but CHP investigators who examined the skid marks and other evidence at the scene determined they were going more like 105 mph.

Doheny also confirmed that Naegele, the Range Rover's registered owner, was behind the wheel. Naegele's blood-alcohol level later tested at about 0.16 percent--twice the legal limit. Beer cans were found strewn about the vehicle, according to those prosecuting Naegele for gross vehicular manslaughter and two sentencing enhancements.

He first pleaded not guilty, and Judge Duffy declared a mistrial after Naegele's attorneys, Eugene Harris and lawyer-to-the-stars Mark Geragos, informed the court they would produce explosive evidence proving their client was not driving the Range Rover.

Kurt Duncan Naegele, Accused of Fatal Crash Near Hearst Castle, Claims His Body was Switched

Shortly after a second trial began, Naegele apparently had a change of heart, agreeing in May to plead no contest in exchange for a sentence that would allow him the chance to spend his time in custody at home.

Kurt Duncan Naegele Cuts Plea Deal in Fatal DUI Crash Near Hearst Castle

It was after reporting on the plea deal that yours truly was first contacted by Tim Naegele, who essentially said not so fast, Coker; a no contest plea is not an admission of guilty and the family would file a civil suit against Doheny.

Regardless, the prosecution wanted a year in custody and five years probation, sentencing guidelines called for three years for the probation, and Duffy split the difference Friday by ordering four years probation.
"My heartburn has been horrible since the judgment," says Doheny, continuing with the pained theme of his reaction. "Thank god for Axia3 to get me through this hard time. You almost have to buy it online at Amazon.com or Drugstore.com now because of the demand."

The idea that Tim Naegele had talked of pursuing a civil case against him only increased Doheny's stress, but the father now maintains that matter has been settled--not that he's giving up in the court of public opinion.

"Mark Geragos' partner Pat Harris made an offer in open court for the decedent Darren Dahlman's family to come to the Geragos offices and review evidence that we have of Kurt's innocence and Ryan Doheny's guilt," the elder Naegele says. "A copy of the sentencing hearing transcript will confirm this."

Speaking of the sentencing hearing, the onetime chief of staff to former U.S. Senator Edward W. Brooke (R-Mass.) and counsel to the United States Senate's Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs believes he should have been able to submit a victim's impact statement to Duffy's court because, "Clearly, I am a 'victim' of that tragic accident; Kurt's wife and daughters, and his mother and sister are, too; and the rest of his family is as well."

Duffy only allowed those other than Kurt Naegele injured in the crash and Dahlman's family members to contribute such statements. While Tim Naegele says he "accepted that advice," he also provided the statement you will find on the next page, in which he expresses sorrow to Doheny's wife, accuses her husband of lying, and says the idea that his son is being held accountable for the crash "flies in the face of everything that I believe about our American system of justice."

But first, we will hear from Doheny, who scoffed at the idea that the Geragos team was prepared to use "the best forensic expert in the United States'" against him.

"This guy didn't find anything that would support their ridiculous stance, probably causing greater instances of heartburn for all of them," Doheny writes.

Had the civil case been pursued, Doheny says his attorney would have presented evidence of just what Kurt Naegele pleaded to: being the driver who killed a man that very tragic night.

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