Drivers Get Serious Charges

East Hampton Town police arrested four men last week on misdemeanor drunken-driving charges. One of them, Diego A. Zelayandia of Flanders, if convicted, could lose his driving privilege in New York State for five years, or even for life. 

Mr. Zelayandia was headed west on Montauk Highway on Friday evening approaching Town Line Road in a 2002 Dodge Durango while tailgating the car in front of him, according to police, which led to a traffic stop. Mr. Zelayandia, 54, smelled of alcohol and failed roadside sobriety tests, police said. “I had two Bud Lights,” he allegedly told the arresting officer. At police headquarters, a breath test produced a reading of .15 of 1 percent alcohol in the blood, police said, well in excess of the .08 percentage that defines intoxication in New York. Bail was set at $5,000, and posted.

During his arraignment the next morning, it became clear that, while the current charge is a misdemeanor, the consequences of a conviction could be severe because he had been arrested three times previously on D.W.I. charges. East Hampton Town Justice Lisa R. Rana discussed Mr. Zelayandia’s legal history with Brian DeSesa, an attorney provided by the county for weekend arraignments.

In 1990, Mr. Zelayandia plea-bargained down from a misdemeanor D.W.I. charge to driving with ability impaired by alcohol. Then, in 1993, he was convicted of drunken driving as a misdemeanor. That conviction meant that when he was convicted in 2002 on the same charge, it was as a felony. A drunken driving charge is a felony if you have a prior conviction within the past 10 years. Now, there is a possibility that he could be banned for life from driving in New York State, in an administrative decision by the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

Mr. DeSesa explained the process after the proceeding was over. The Department of Motor Vehicles, he said, “can do a lifetime look back. They have been doing that for the last couple of years. He could be suspended for life.”

The administrative regulations were put in place in September 2012, at the behest of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The best scenario for Mr. Zelayandia, if he is convicted of the latest charge and the D.M.V. launches a look back, would be if he has less than 20 points on his license over the past 25 years, and no serious driving offense on his record.

 Two five-point convictions, such as a cellphone ticket, equal one serious driving offense. Without a serious driving offense but with three or four convictions, the penalty is a five-year driving ban. But with a serious driving offense, and the three convictions, the driver can be classified as a persistently dangerous driver, and be banned for life, the website says. 

The practice of the department in imposing a lifetime ban upon a driver has been upheld in New York State Supreme Court. Justice George B. Ceresia Jr. found in 2014 that there “is no fundamental right to drive.”

Moises Alejandro Sanchez, 46, of East Hampton was behind the wheel of a 2003 Dodge Caravan Saturday night, driving east on Pantigo Road near Amy’s Lane when, police said, he repeatedly swerved across lane lines, leading to his eventual arrest. He reportedly told the arresting officer, “I had one beer and four shots of tequila.” His breath test allegedly produced a reading of .17.

A longtime resident of the community, he was released without bail.

An Amagansett man, Nabil Braham Bahi, was pulled over in a 2011 Chevrolet pickup in downtown Montauk at around midnight last Thursday. Police said he had been parked on Main Street, when he pulled away from the curb “unsafely,” then made an illegal U-turn, before turning off the highway onto South Edison Street. Police said he then made an unsafe turn onto South Euclid Avenue, swerving across lane lines. He told police, “I had two drinks.” At headquarters, his test brought back an alleged reading of .13.

Citing his longstanding ties to the community, Justice Rana released him without bail, but with a warning after she suspended his license: “Do not drive.”  

Finally, Robert Harrison Johnstone, 42, driving a 2015 Chevrolet Silverado with Georgia plates, was headed away from the Montauk dock area Monday evening when he just missed being struck by another vehicle on West Lake Drive at its intersection with Flamingo Avenue, police said. Mr. Johnstone, who was pulling away from a stop sign, was stopped by an officer who said he had failed to yield to the oncoming car, “almost causing an accident.”

 Mr. Johnstone allegedly told the officer that he thought the intersection had a four-way stop sign, which is why he pulled out even though a car was approaching. There is no such sign. His breath test produced a reading of .13. 

Mr. Johnstone is from LaGrange, Ga., but has been living at the Windward Shores motel for over a year, working for a contractor. He told Justice Rana the job will be going on for some time. Justice Rana released Mr. Johnstone without bail, but with a future date on her busy criminal calendar.