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A Woman's Place's director arrested for drunken driving

Diana Almanza, executive director of A Woman's Place of Merced County, was arrested by Merced police early Sunday morning on misdemeanor charges of drunken driving and hit-and-run driving.

The 44-year-old director of the program for abused and battered women was released on her own recognizance after her booking into Merced County Jail on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and hit-and-run driving.

Susie Bubenchik, the organization's spokeswoman, said Monday afternoon that Almanza's arrest won't affect her position as executive director and she was "still doing her job quite effectively."

Cmdr. Tom Martin of the Merced Police Department said Almanza was arrested by Officer Hazel Castro and field training officer Perry Flowers just after midnight Saturday in the parking lot of Rancho San Miguel Market, 1930 Yosemite Park Way.

According to police, signs of intoxication and her admitted use of Vicodin earlier in the day led Castro and Flowers to administer a field sobriety test and a breath test to Almanza. Almanza's breath results showed a blood-alcohol content of 0.06 and 0.07, Martin said. The presumptive blood-alcohol reading indicating intoxication is 0.08.

Almanza said Monday she had made a serious error in judgment. She said she had taken half a Vicodin pill for a knee injury, drank wine earlier in the evening and not eaten.

"I have no excuse whatsoever," Almanza said.

Martin said Almanza's 2001 Ford Expedition was involved in a sideswipe-type accident with the left rear of a parked 1989 Ford in the 3100 block of Dinkey Creek Avenue.

Martin said Castro and Flowers determined Almanza's sport-utility vehicle struck the parked Ford, then continued up onto the curb and ran over a city street sign. Molding and the passenger's side mirror from Almanza's car were found at the crash scene.

Officers believe Almanza struck the street sign and the parked Ford before continuing to the market on Yosemite Park Way. A security guard at the market who called officers noticed the right rear tire of the Expedition was blown out and shredded and there was moderate right side damage.

Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II said he had not seen the Almanza arrest report. Because of a longstanding personal and professional relationship with Almanza, he said her case probably will be forwarded to the state Attorney General's office for its determination.

Martin said Almanza told responding officers she had left home and drove to the Rancho San Miguel market to shop. She told the security guard she didn't realize she had a flat tire and also asked him if the store sold wine. At the time the store was closed.

Martin said officers smelled the odor of an alcoholic beverage on Almanza's breath but she denied drinking any alcohol.

According to its Web site, A Woman's Place of Merced County is dedicated to eliminating domestic violence and sexual assault. It provides comprehensive and innovative services that positively impact individuals, families and communities.

The Board of Directors of A Woman's Place was meeting Monday night in Los Banos, and directors had been informed by e-mail of Almanza's arrest.

Bob Rucker, chairman of the board, could not be reached for comment and E.J. "Almo" Lorenzi, vice president, declined to comment on the matter.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209-385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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