Mayor Berman seeks leniency for man in DUI death - East Valley Tribune: News

Mayor Berman seeks leniency for man in DUI death

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Posted: Friday, August 22, 2008 7:16 pm | Updated: 11:05 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman has written a letter to a Maricopa County Superior Court judge asking him to go easy on a man convicted of killing a Tempe teen while driving drunk.

PDF: Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman letter to Maricopa County judge regarding Raymond Kohan

Berman submitted the letter Aug. 8 on behalf of Raymond Kohan, 35, who previously had been convicted of drunken driving.

Kohan ran a red light in May 2006, slamming into the car of 17-year-old Sean Andujar, court records show. Andujar, a Marcos de Niza High School student, was on his way to a school band concert.

Kohan had a blood-alcohol content nearly twice the legal limit, records show. He was found guilty of manslaughter and endangerment last month and will be sentenced Sept. 26.

The letter, written on town letterhead, asks the judge to be "compassionate and grant Raymond probation with no prison sentence ... I plead that you grant Raymond leniency on his sentencing."

Berman refused to comment on the letter.

When asked about it Friday following a court hearing for his divorce, the mayor ignored questions and walked away.

"I think it's pretty clear that the mayor isn't going to comment," said Berman's lawyer, Mel McDonald.

What's also not clear is how Kohan and Berman know each other.

Kohan couldn't be reached, and Berman wouldn't talk about their relationship.

In his letter, the mayor wrote, "I have known Raymond and his family socially and professionally for a number of years."

Kristi Martin, a Mothers Against Drunk Driving advocate who has worked with the victim's family on the case, said she has no idea why the mayor wrote the letter.

"It's the $1 million question," Martin said. "We've been trying to figure that out."

Berman's support for Kohan is a reversal from a stance he took publicly in 2005, when a 21-year-old man died in a Gilbert crash.

Ricky E. Smith was killed when his car was T-boned at a town intersection, and the man who hit him was given probation and community service. Smith's parents started an effort to change state law to make jail time mandatory in fatal crashes, and Berman supported the move.

"This is crazy, that you can kill somebody and not go to jail for it," Berman told the Tribune in 2005.

But in his letter, Berman said that when he became aware of Kohan's situation, he wanted to write something on his behalf.

"Raymond is an extremely sensitive and responsible man," Berman wrote.

Before Andujar's death, Kohan had been convicted of drunken driving twice before - in 2001 and 2002. Court records also reveal Kohan had previous arrests on suspicion of drug-related offenses, theft, probation violation and driving with a suspended license.

Andujar's family couldn't be reached Friday to talk about the letter. But Martin said what the mayor did is disappointing.

"It's unbelievable - and sad," she said.

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