John Dungan

“Uh, yes.”

Those were the only words uttered in court by accused car-killer John Dungan, in court Friday morning for what had been slated as his arraignment hearing. Dungan, dressed in an orange jail-issue jump suit and sitting in a wheelchair behind a thick plexiglass partition in Judge Clifford Anderson’s courtroom, is charged with intentionally steering his Camaro into an oncoming Chevy Volt on Highway 154 on October 25. The ensuing collision killed not just the driver, Vanessa Bley, but her two children, Lucienne Bley Gleason and Desmond Bley Gleason, ages two years old and four months old, respectively.

Dungan’s response came after Judge Anderson asked if he agreed to extend his arraignment date to November 20. Other than that, Bill Makler, Dungan’s attorney on a previous charge of felonious stalking, withdrew as counsel and was replaced for the day by Mindy Boulet with the Public Defender’s office. She in turn will be replaced criminal defense attorney Jeremy Lessem by the time Dungan is finally arraigned.

Although little happened, Anderson’s courtroom buzzed with anticipation. Four bailiffs stood along one side of the courtroom wall as camera crews with various media outlets waited for the case to be called. Dungan’s father sat in the courtroom, as did the father of the young woman whom Dungan had allegedly stalked. The media, Judge Anderson ruled, would be allowed to photograph and videotape Dungan, just not today. His attorney for the moment argued Dungan should be attired in street clothes for the next court appearances, not the orange jailhouse duds.

As cases go, it doesn’t get more grisly. Two dead babies and a mom in a fiery car crash, allegedly done in by a kamikaze 28-year-old with a death wish and a voracious appetite for firearms. At issue for prosecutor Stephen Wagner, new to the District Attorney’s Office, is whether he can provide eyewitnesses who will attest to Dungan’s homicidal intent and whether Dungan himself left behind notes indicating a deadly purpose. Of broader community interest, however, will be how Dungan was ever allowed to get behind the wheel of that car.

Earlier this year, Dungan had been placed in an involuntary mental-health hold on the grounds that he posed an imminent threat to himself or to others. A welfare check conducted by the Sheriff’s Co-Response Team at Dungan’s parents’ home unearthed a cache of handguns, rifles, 20,000 rounds of ammo, and a bulletproof vests. Authorities were seriously spooked. Dungan had been pulled over previously and weapons were also found, not to mention a bulletproof plate. Felony stalking charged were filed: Dungan had reportedly been harassing a young woman with whom he’d gone out once and who then cut off relations. Dungan’s attachment, however, was reportedly far more intense than one date might suggest. His repeated communications were sufficiently scary to the object of his attention that she got a restraining order and all but moved out of town. Her parents installed a security system in their home.

Dungan was remanded to a psychiatric hospital in Pasadena with orders he not be allowed off the grounds unless accompanied by law enforcement personnel. Judge Thomas Adams allowed Dungan to move back to Santa Barbara in late September but only if he resided at a mental-health halfway house on Modoc Road, that he attended outpatient recovery treatment, took all his medications, and wore a GPS bracelet. In court exchanges, Adams had expressed alarm about Dungan’s demeanor and affect, asking his attorney at one point whether he thought Dungan might be “5150” — meaning he posed a threat to himself or others. Despite such concerns, Adams signed the release order; Dungan had been a compliant and cooperative patient.

For the time being, prosecuting attorney Wagner is keeping mum about details. Much of that information, he stated, would be made available if and when the preliminary hearing takes place.


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