WARREN – Even Keith Urso’s attorney called him an addict Tuesday, saying the 50-year-old Warren man should have been in an alcohol rehabilitation program years ago.
”Jail won’t do him much good,” said attorney Anthony Consoldane, who stood with Urso as he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. A jury convicted him last month of his 15th drunken driving charge.
Still, Consoldane vows to appeal Urso’s conviction.
Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Andrew Logan pointed out a ”pattern of alcohol abuse with no real attempts to treat it. Short-term incarceration has not worked.
”You are a danger to the community,” the judge said, while permanently suspending Urso’s driver’s license – a license he really hasn’t had for years.
Urso said nothing in his defense.
At the trial, Consoldane tried in vain to convince a jury of seven women and five men that Urso’s blood- alcohol content of .286 on Jan. 31 was incorrect because results could have been flawed by an electrical surge since the Datamaster breath analyzer machine was plugged into the same outlet as a small refrigerator.
The defense attorney also spent considerable time trying to convince jurors that his client was not observed for the proper 20 minutes before being tested.
The legal limit to drive is .08 in Ohio.
Assistant county prosecutor Michael Burnett built his case around the test results that showed Urso three times higher than the legal limit in Ohio and observations by arresting deputies, Trooper Brooke Sexton, who administered the test, a couple who saw Urso behind the wheel of the Chevrolet Corsica, and a state park law enforcement officer.
Urso was described as passed out or asleep behind the wheel and nearly falling down when he was about to take the breathalyzer test.
Besides the 14 other convictions – only 10 of which were used as evidence in the case – Urso also has served a one-year sentence for an initial felony DUI conviction in 2006. One of his convictions resulted in the death of a woman riding in a hay wagon in 1982.
Sisters of Nadine Foster, who was killed, have watched Urso’s court proceedings patiently.
”I’m glad it’s over. It’s really gone on too long. It’s too bad it destroyed his life too,” said Rose Swartzfager Matela, who along with her sister Debbie breathed a sigh of relief after Urso was sentenced and taken away from the courtroom in handcuffs.
In calling for the maximum sentence in Urso’s case, Burnett wrote in his sentencing memorandum:
”Throughout the defendant’s 28-year history as a criminal, he has shown nothing but contempt for the laws of the State of Ohio and the orders of the courts who have sought to protect society from his drunken transgressions.
”From an early age, he has known that every time he gets behind the wheel in an intoxicated state, he risks not only his life, but the lives of the innocents who surround him. He knows this, because he has taken a life in the past as a result of his dangerous pattern of drunk driving, yet he still refuses to mend his ways.
”In fact, the defendant has been convicted of OVI 15 times since the tragic night that he took the life of Nadine Foster. It is nothing short of a miracle that no other souls have been harvested by the defendant’s four-wheeled scythe.”
The case received considerable attention in January and February when Urso was denied any bond at all.
When Urso was arrested the most recent time for DUI Jan. 31, he was wanted on a warrant for being $23,000 in arrears in child support, according to pleadings in the case.
Urso was arrested on state Route 88 at Hoagland Blackstub Road in Mecca after a 911 caller reported an erratic driver. Deputies who made the arrest said the driver appeared drunk and had trouble standing up when he was questioned.
After he was taken to Mecca Fire Station for a breathalyzer test, Urso blurted out, ”I’m guilty,” to a state highway patrolman while being asked a series of routine questions before taking the test. Logan pointed out that Urso still had the option of not taking the test.
On taped telephone conversations from jail, Urso told his girlfriend, Karen Cross, to sell the vehicle he was accused of driving before authorities forfeit the car.
He says on the tape that he intended to get a haircut since he was spotted as a female with female-length hair. He told his girlfriend to cash his income tax refund check before child support officials find out about the money and to get a van repaired so he has something to drive when he gets out of jail.
Logan ruled earlier against Consoldane’s motions to throw out the tapes as evidence. The tapes never really were used in court though.