Nye County District Attorney Robert Beckett is facing a drunken driving charge in California -- and what figure to be some uncomfortable questions from his constituents -- after crashing two vehicles on the same desert highway six hours apart.
Beckett, 49, totaled his county-issued sport utility vehicle in the first rollover accident, which occurred about 1:30 p.m. Sunday on California Route 127 just south of Shoshone, Calif.
Then, after catching a ride back to his home in Pahrump in a tow truck, Beckett headed back out on the same highway in the family van, only to crash again at 7:35 p.m. about 35 miles south of the first accident scene.
The California Highway Patrol officer called to the scene of the second wreck reported smelling alcohol on Beckett's breath.
Sgt. Mike Black, spokesman for the Highway Patrol's Barstow, Calif., area office, said Beckett failed a blood-breath alcohol test and was arrested for drunken driving.
The longtime district attorney was taken to Baker, Calif., 20 miles from the crash site, where he was cited and released into the custody of a friend who came to pick him up, Black said.
Beckett did not respond to several messages left at his office and on his cell phone.
As of Thursday, no official statement on the crashes or the arrest had been issued by Nye County or Beckett's office.
County Manager Ron Williams declined to comment through his secretary.
Nye County Commission Chairwoman Joni Eastley said that she heard whisperings about the incident earlier this week, but that the first reliable information she received came Thursday morning when a friend of the Beckett family called to tell her what had happened.
The friend told Eastley that Beckett had suffered a head injury in a crash and was home resting under a doctor's supervision. No mention was made of a second crash or an arrest, Eastley said.
"He's got a huge goose egg is what I was told," Eastley said. "He's got a huge goose egg on his head."
Beckett is midway through his fourth term as Nye County district attorney, a position he has held since January 1994. The elected post pays $105,616 a year, a salary set by state law.
He is currently running for district judge against a longtime incumbent and one of his own deputy prosecutors.
According to a report on the first accident, Beckett told police he was "fidgeting with the radio" when the county-owned 2003 Ford Expedition drifted off the road. He lost control of the vehicle and it rolled, coming to rest on its roof.
John Eropkin, undersheriff for the Inyo County (Calif.) sheriff's office, said the deputy who responded to the scene did not smell alcohol on Beckett or his vehicle, "and that's what they have to go on."
The Highway Patrol report on the second crash blames the accident on Beckett's "impaired state" and his failure to watch the road while talking on his cell phone.
According to the report, Beckett told the officer that he drank "a Bud Light with dinner" before heading out alone in the family's 2005 Dodge van on his way to Santa Barbara, Calif.
Eastley said she was told Beckett was headed to Santa Barbara to attend the State Bar of Nevada's annual meeting, which began Wednesday and lasts through Saturday at a posh beachside hotel.
Beckett reported minor injuries to his hands after each crash but refused medical treatment at both scenes.
Black said Beckett is scheduled for arraignment in Barstow Superior Court on Sept. 2.
Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350.