More MS news articles for September 1999

Hit-run driver likely drunk
Police say suspect has 3 DUI convictions
By Jim Walsh
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 4, 1999

By Dale Severance's admission, he was already a three-time loser -- thrice convicted for driving under the influence.

But that didn't stop him, Mesa police said, from downing five vodka drinks and two beers Thursday before getting behind the wheel.

Police said that Severance, 31, likely was impaired when he struck a handicapped woman who was trying to cross busy Country Club Drive at Eighth Avenue on a motorized scooter. He fled on foot, leaving behind a gravely injured Cheryl Lanenga in the road -- and a girlfriend who ended up fingering him to police, authorities said.

Lanenga, who has multiple sclerosis and uses the scooter for mobility, remained on a ventilator and in critical condition Friday at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn. Police said she's not expected to live.

"This is a good example of what happens when you repeatedly drink and drive," Officer Tim Gaffney said. "Now, this 55-year-old woman with MS has to pay the price."

Severance's girlfriend, identified in court records only by the first name Jennifer, was following Severance's van in a U-Haul truck when she witnessed the collision.

"She helped us big-time," Gaffney said.

In addition to identifying her boyfriend, she led officers to the bar where they had been drinking so police could collect the bar receipts and document how much Severance had to drink, Gaffney said.

She also helped police track down Severance, who had called her on a pay phone to tell her what she already knew: the cops were after him.

Police said Severance rejected his girlfriend's pleas to turn himself in. But her Caller ID captured the pay phone number, leading officers to a Native New Yorker bar at Mesa Drive and Brown Road.

Severance reportedly told police he drank after the collision, not before.

Severance remained in the Madison Street Jail Friday on a $1 million bond. West Mesa Justice of the Peace Clayton Hamblen has scheduled a preliminary hearing on charges of aggravated assault, leaving the scene of an accident, and driving with a revoked license.

Court records show Severance was on probation from Pinal County on a possession of dangerous drugs conviction. He also had a conviction for receiving stolen property, the records said.

Lanenga's relatives declined to talk Friday. Police said she entered the crosswalk on a walk sign but apparently failed to make it across before the traffic light changed. Mesa transportation said pedestrians have 25 seconds to cross before the light signal changes.

Jan Siedler, a Mesa signal systems supervisor, said most scooters and wheelchairs are faster than the typical pedestrian. She offeredto meet with the disabled about their concerns, however.

But Donna Redford of Arizona Bridge to Independent Living said lights turn too fast for people with slower mobility.

Redford said curb cuts can delay the disabled from entering a crosswalk, slowing them down. And drivers sometimes don't see the disabled, even though they may stand out more than other pedestrians.

"It's just very dangerous," Redford said. "The right turns are killers for pedestrians, period."