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Embattled Almanza jailed for second DUI

Almost exactly a week after a similar incident, the executive director of A Woman's Place, Diana Almanza, was arrested a second time Friday night by Merced police on charges of misdemeanor drunken driving and hit-and-run driving.

Almanza, 44, has been placed in a rehabilitation center, an official with the agency said.

Susan Bubenchik, the agency's public relations director, has been named interim director in her absence, Merced Mayor Ellie Wooten, a Woman's Place board member, said Sunday afternoon.

Ironically, Almanza's 2001 Ford Expedition struck the same Ford Aerostar van she collided with a week ago before her first arrest, according to Lt. Floyd Higdon of the Merced Police Department.

E.J. "Almo" Lorenzi, vice president of the A Woman's Place board, said Sunday five of the 10 board members met Sunday morning to examine the arrest and will issue a statement, probably today. He said Almanza's family checked her into a Bay Area rehabilitation facility following the 9:59 p.m. accident on Friday.

Lorenzi, acting board president while Bob Rucker is out of state, said Almanza's second arrest "was quite a blow." He said the board took action at a special board meeting Sunday morning but declined to say what was decided. He did say the board has taken care of the matter and took the matter very seriously.

Higdon said officers found Almanza's unoccupied Ford Expedition sport utility vehicle on the sidewalk of Dinkey Creek Avenue near Coffee Street. Witnesses told police Almanza got out of the vehicle and walked away from the scene eastbound on Dinkey Creek Avenue.

Officer Keith Rieg located Almanza at Plum Drive near Dinkey Creek, with the key to the Ford in her hand. Officer Vince Sapien determined that Almanza was driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, and was placed under arrest after a field sobriety test, Higdon said.

Almanza submitted to a breath test, with results of .09 and .08 blood-alcohol content. A person is considered intoxicated with a .08 blood-alcohol content reading. She was then taken to the Community Campus of Mercy Medical Center Merced for a blood test before booking into Merced County Jail. She was released on her own recognizance about 5:30 a.m., according to a correctional official.

Lorenzi said the board met with A Woman's Place department heads on Sunday. He said the support staff is very strong and is carrying on, with "a sincere heart for their work."

He said board members want to protect A Woman's Place and its efforts on behalf of abused and battered women. Wooten said the agency will continue its operations without interruption.

As a director, Wooten said her sole concern is for the function of A Woman's Place.

"Diana's a friend and I feel terrible about this," Wooten said.

Almanza was arrested early Sept. 22 in the parking lot of the Rancho San Miguel parking lot at Yosemite Park Way and Parsons Avenue after her car hit the same Ford van and a city street sign on Dinkey Creek Avenue minutes before. Her blood-alcohol content readings after that arrest were .06 and .07 and Almanza was booked into jail on misdemeanor charges of drunken driving and hit-and-run driving. In the first incident, she also was released from jail on her own recognizance.

The A Woman's Place board issued a statement Tuesday after her first arrest saying they supported Almanza. In the latest incident, Diana Valdez, owner of the Ford Aerostar, told Rieg that she was in her home when she heard a loud crash and went outside to see what caused it.

Last Monday afternoon, Almanza called a Sun-Star editor twice while the newspaper’s initial story about her arrest was being prepared. “There’s no mistake that I made a horrible mistake,” she said. “No question about that.” But she questioned whether charges would be filed about the incident, twice repeating that it was “a misdemeanor.” A few moments later in the conversation she added, “But the ramifications are greater than just to me.”

In Friday's crash, Valdez said she saw that her vehicle, which was parked across the street, appeared to be damaged and observed a vehicle leaving the location. As the vehicle was driving off, they heard tire noise and observed smoke.

The vehicle came to a stop near the Coffee Street intersection. The driver exited the vehicle and started walking back up Dinkey Creek. As Almanza approached Valdez, she stated that she had struck her vehicle. Valdez' vehicle sustained major damage on the driver's side and rear quarter. Valdez told Rieg that Almanza had struck her same vehicle last week, Higdon said.

A third vehicle involved in the collision, a Chevrolet Silverado pickup owned by Lisa Pena, received minor driver's side damage.

Higdon said it was determined that Almanza was westbound in her Ford Expedition. She struck the parked Ford Aerostar owned by Valdez, continued another 110 feet and struck the parked truck owned by Pena, and then continued into the next block before jumping the curb and over the sidewalk and becoming disabled.

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

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