Questions surround official

Almost three weeks after he crashed two vehicles in six hours and got arrested on a drunken driving charge, Nye County District Attorney Bob Beckett finally cleared up one bit of speculation: The long-time prosecutor plans to continue his campaign for district judge.

But other questions continue to swirl around the bizarre events of June 15.

Even top officials in the rural county remain in the dark about exactly what happened and where Beckett was headed when he crashed twice on the same 35-mile stretch of California Route 127.

The first crash destroyed Beckett’s county-issued sport utility vehicle. The second, in his own van, resulted in his arrest.

As of Thursday, County Manager Ron Williams and County Commission Chairwoman Joni Eastley still had not spoken to Beckett. Neither could say how seriously the district attorney might have been injured in the accidents or report with certainty that he has returned to work.

"The only thing we know officially is what we’ve read in the newspaper," Eastley said.

All Beckett has said so far has come in the form a written statement, issued by his campaign managers, in which he takes "full responsibility" for the two traffic accidents but offers few details.

Beckett has not responded to repeated interview requests or, it seems, explained himself to county administrators or his fellow elected officials.

Eastley and Williams aren’t asking, either.

Both officials said they have not tried to contact Beckett because they have no authority to demand information from the elected prosecutor, let alone discipline him in the event of any wrongdoing.

"I consider us on equal footing as elected officials. He certainly doesn’t answer to me," Eastley explained.

"He reports to the voters," Williams said. "I’m not in a position to do anything about it at all."

One organization with some authority over Beckett is the State Bar of Nevada.

Assistant Bar Counsel Phil Pattee said the association is aware of Beckett’s case and will monitor it as it makes it way through the courts in San Bernardino, Calif.

He is scheduled for arraignment on drunken driving charge in Barstow Superior Court on Sept. 2.

A guilty plea or conviction for Beckett there could trigger possible disciplinary action by the bar association here, Pattee said.

Beckett faces more immediate scrutiny from his constituents.

Nye County Clerk Sam Merlino said her office has fielded one inquiry about the process for recalling the district attorney from office, but no paperwork has been filed.

Eastley said about dozen county residents have contacted her about the situation so far.

Most of them wanted to know whether the district attorney will be forced to pay for the vehicle he crashed. About half said they thought he should resign.

Beckett is midway through his fourth term as district attorney, a position he has held since January 1995.

In addition to his base salary of $105,616, he receives $21,123 a year in longevity pay, Eastley said.

Beckett is currently running for district judge against a longtime incumbent and one of his own deputy prosecutors. His campaign managers, Patty Chipman and Laura Billman, said they met with Beckett to discuss strategy on Wednesday and he made it clear he intends to stay in the race.

Beckett’s first — and so far only — public statement since the accidents does not address his candidacy.

Instead, Beckett uses the three-paragraph statement to admit his involvement in "an unwise thing that resulted in a DUI citation."

Nye County’s chief prosecutor said he takes "full responsibility for these events" and expects no special treatment. He promised to "let the system work this out."

Beckett goes on to apologize for waiting so long to issue a statement, a delay he blames on undisclosed injuries he suffered in the accidents.

According to police, Beckett refused medical treatment at both scenes.

Eastley said Beckett could have cleared up some speculation simply by contacting Williams to report the accident involving his county vehicle.

"That’s basic common sense," she said. "I’ve never seen it in writing anywhere, but that’s what I’d do."

For his part, Williams said he is inclined to "let the investigators investigate" and see where that leads. If the county’s insurance provider refuses to pay for the damage to Beckett’s vehicle for any reason, county officials might decide to seek the money from someone else.

Williams doesn’t expect it come to that, though.

"This is strictly an automobile accident from everything I’ve heard," he said.

Regardless of the outcome, Eastley considers the whole affair a "black eye" for the county.

She said she is embarrassed that more than two weeks have passed and she still cannot answer basic questions about Beckett’s status.

"This situation makes it look like we don’t have it together," Eastley said.

Williams still doesn’t know quite what to think.

"I don’t have the information to tell you how I feel about the information," he said. "It doesn’t make us look good, that’s for sure."

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean or 702-383-0350.

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