Priscilla Susman at her sentencing (May 21, 2012)
Paul Wellman

Judge George Eskin on Monday sentenced Priscilla Susman, 56, to one year in county jail and five years of probation. She is also required to complete 1,000 hours of community service upon her release.

Susman, owner of Paradise Store and Grill, pleaded no contest in February to vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated following a September 2010 crash on Highway 154 as she drove to Santa Barbara from the Paradise Store and Grill. The crash killed Liesel Ryden, 73, and left two others injured. Following the accident, which included a total of five cars, Susman’s blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.36.

Additionally, Susman will have her driver’s license suspended for three years and is required to pay restitution to the victims of the crash. If she violates her probation, Susman will face an 11-year suspended prison sentence.

The four-hour hearing included time for the court to hear comments from both victims of the crash and those to close Susman. One of the crash’s survivors, Jay Fortman, said he preferred the court to keep Susman out of jail but require her to fulfill a list of duties. Among the suggestions were for Susman to take responsibility for her actions, recognize she needs to be in treatment for alcohol abuse, and take part in community service. Fortman also asked that Susman sell the Paradise Store and Grill or be banned from it because he felt it only helped her indulge in her alcohol problem.

Two other letters were read on the behalf of victims who were not present in court, both of whom asked for Susman to serve jail time.

In support of Susman was her sister, Laura Armor, who said Susman has been sober for 21 months since the accident and has been in treatment at Full Spectrum Recovery for her alcohol problem. The family, she said, has also worked to improve Susman’s business and improve the people she surrounds herself with. Another supporter also spoke on behalf of Susman and said she had been inspired by her during their group therapy sessions over the past year-and-a-half.

Prompted by the testimony of those speaking in favor of his client, defense attorney Michael Carty repeatedly mentioned Susman had changed for the better since the accident and asked the court to be lenient in its sentence. Senior Deputy District Attorney Arnie Tolks, however, said, “[The defense] wants to paint her as a victim, and I take issue with that. … She was taking people’s lives into her hands.”

When reading his decision, Eskin said that when Susman entered her no contest plea it came with no promise of leniency. He agreed that Susman had made strides in improving herself over the past year-and-a-half but, given the horrific details of the incident, she must serve a term in custody. Tolks said Susman, who was taken into custody immediately after the hearing, will likely serve about eight months of her year-long sentence because of the jail’s credit system.


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