Modestan's 10th DUI conviction granted rehab instead of prison time

A longtime Modesto car dealer caught a break Friday when a judge sentenced him to alcohol rehabilitation in lieu of three years in prison for his 10th drunk driving conviction.

Don Lee Thiel, 70, who once owned Thiel Motors on 10th Street, pleaded no contest to driving under the influence in July with a blood-alcohol content nearly twice the legal limit.

His DUI rap sheet stretches back to 1974, court files show.

Judge Marie Silveira said rehab was one of Thiel's "few hopes."

"I don't think there's anyone in this room who's not frustrated and upset about Mr. Thiel and the way he's managed his life," Silveira said.

Thiel's attorney, Ronald LaForce, said Thiel will continue to be a danger to the public until he gets treatment.

"At least there's a chance he'll be able to control his alcoholism," LaForce said.

Deputy District Attorney Jared Carrillo objected and asked Silveira to send Thiel to prison.

In a hearing last month, Carrillo said locking up Thiel for as little as three months, the length of the treatment program, was a "farce." He said Thiel has not sought help for his alcohol problem in the 35 years he's been in trouble with the law.

In a doctor's report, Thiel was diagnosed with "severe" alcohol dependence.

Thiel will be evaluated at the California Rehabilitation Center, a correctional facility that includes treatment programs for alcohol and drugs in Norco, near Riverside.

On June 9, a sheriff's deputy pulled Thiel over at 6:48 p.m. after Thiel reportedly cut in front of the deputy's car on Claus Road north of Briggsmore Avenue.

When asked if he had been drinking, Thiel told the deputy: "Don't do this to me, I'm too old for this s---."

Thiel's blood-alcohol was 0.14 percent, over the 0.08 percent legal limit.

"I have never wrecked a car or hurt anyone in any of my prior DUIs," Thiel told a probation officer.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at or 578-2337.