Michael Blahut pepper-sprayed the manager at Ukiah’s McDonald’s, Luay Habash, having rammed the car ahead of him in the drive-through. Mr. Blahut then pepper-sprayed the driver of the car he’d rammed who happened to be the public relations guy for the Coast Hospital, Doug Shald.
Shald had tried to detain Blahut after Blahut had hosed down Shald, sending Mrs. Shald and the little Shalds scurrying for cover.
The fleet-footed Officer Kevin Murray of the Ukiah Police Department ran Blahut to the ground in the J.C. Penney’s parking lot.
The fastest cop on the force, Officer Murray reached the fleeing Blahut first, shouting at the pepper spray maniac to stop and get on the ground. Officer Edwards came up behind Blahut and put Blahut in compliance with the verbal command, to put it euphemistically.
The spent can of pepper spray was located about 30 feet from where the officers made the arrest. Blahut said he accidentally hit the car in front of him in the drive-through. He said he tried to reason with the rear-ended driver, asking him to get their cheeseburgers first and go find a nice quiet, shady spot for lunch where they could exchange insurance info.
But the driver of the rammed car said Blahut was shouting unintelligibly and scaring hell out of his wife and kids. Blahut also started throwing clothing to the ground and appeared to have put something, maybe a gun, under his jacket. He then pepper-sprayed the manager Habash and Shald, and ran away.
The officers thought Blahut may have been intoxicated, but he refused to take a field sobriety test. He also refused to take a breathalyzer test. So he was transported to Ukiah Valley Medical Center for a blood test. He refused that, too.
When drunks refuse all tests, a search warrant must be obtained to get the blood test done without the drunk’s permission. So Officer Maxwell Oswald trudged to the County Courthouse, got the search warrant signed by Judge Cindee Mayfield, and returned to the hospital. Blahut no longer had a choice. The blood sample was sent to the Department of Justice lab in Eureka. Surprise: the results were high, 0.255, over three times the 0.08 legal limit.
Officer Oswald was working with a FTO (field training officer) at the time, August 31st, 2017, and he was on the stand last week for his first time. He was about to be cross-examined by one of Ukiah’s senior private defense lawyers Justin Petersen.
“You say my client had slurred speech?”
“And he was having difficulty understanding what you were saying?”
“He made non-responsive statements?”
“Was he having trouble standing when you got him up?”
“And your field training officer was with you?”
“And you asked him to take an alcohol screening test?”
“And he refused?”
“But you had told him he didn’t have to?”
“And this is all on video?”
“And you took him to the hospital because he chose a blood test?”
“My client was asked a question about a lawyer?”
“And he asked to see the search warrant?”
“Ultimately he said he was afraid to say anything, because whatever he said it would be wrong?”
“I don’t recall.”
“But didn’t your field training officer say, ‘Look, we’re just gonna take this as a refusal?”
Deputy DA Thomas Geddes called Mr. Doug Shald, marketing and PR director for Coast Hospital in Fort Bragg. Mr. Shald said he was in line at the drive-through when he heard loud music blaring behind him and an engine revving loudly.
“Then bam! He slammed into us, the engine revved up and bam! It happened again and his car scraped down the side of our car and shot out to the light pole and hit it very hard. The kids were screaming and we were trying to call 911, and he got out of his car and came towards us screaming gibberish and carrying on. Then he returned to his car and started going through it, throwing things around, and me and Julie were wondering if he was looking for a weapon — he put something inside his jacket, and Julie and the kids ran inside.”
Mr. Shald said Blahut was “shouting gibberish and quoting money figures, I pushed him away and he got up and ran, and we decided to stop him, and when I pushed him again, he rolled over and sprayed me right in the face with it [the pepper spray].”
On cross-examination Mr. Petersen asked, “So you were in line at the drive through and you hear this loud music and engine revving?”
“And then you looked over and saw my client’s vehicle?”
“And his car hits your car?”
“Then you heard tires squealing like he was stepping on the gas and brake at the same time?”
“And then he hits your car again?”
“Well, it was a sustained contact, scraping down the side, then he just squeezed through and shot out of there and hit the light pole.”
“How long before he gets out?
“I don’t know. He was yelling at us.”
“What was he yelling?”
"I couldn’t tell. It was all gibberish. We were trying to call the police and calm the children.”
“You saw him put something in his jacket?”
“We thought he had a weapon. He went like this [tucked his hand under his arm] with something in his hand. I told the kids to get out and go inside. Then he rushed at me.”
“He came towards you?”
“And he was saying things you didn’t understand?”
“Do you recall ever telling the police you talked about exchanging insurance information?”
“I don’t remember that, no. We never talked about that. He was reaching out towards me and I was freaking out because I thought he was armed.”
“You mentioned a jacket. When he was rummaging in the vehicle, did he put the jacket on then?”
“Tell me about this jacket. Do you remember what color it was?”
Judge Ann Moorman didn’t want to hear about the jacket. She was growing impatient with Petersen’s celebrated thoroughness, the delight he takes in exploring details with microscopic precision, looking for a defense angle.
“Move on counsel.”
“But judge, Your Honor”—
“So, Mr. Shald, you said he turned to run away and you shoved him to the ground?”
“He stumbled and fell to the ground.”
“Didn’t you and the manager take my client to the ground?”
“How far did he get before you pushed him?”
“Only five or six feet.”
“Didn’t you tell Officer Edwards—”
“I couldn’t see or breathe when Edwards talked to me.”
“At no point did you and the manager take my client to the ground?”
The judge said, “Mr. Petersen move away from the witness stand.”
The lawyer had been hovering, and as he moved away he started going back over some of the testimony again with his fine-toothed comb. But Judge Moorman said no, that was enough, the questions had already been asked and answered.
Deputy DA Thomas Geddes called a ten-year old boy to the stand. The little Shald said he’d bumped his knee when the Shald family car got rammed in the drive through at McDonald’s. Among other charges, Blahut faced DUI causing great bodily injury to a minor.
“So your knee was injured, and how did it feel?” prosecutor Geddes asked.
“It kinda stings.”
“Any more witnesses, Mr. Geddes,” Judge Moorman asked?
“No, judge, and the People will not be seeking a holding order on the GBI (great bodily injury) in regards to the 10-year old victim.”
Judge Moorman held our drunk pepper-sprayer on several charges, two assaults with pepper-spray, DUI, hit & run, 647f drunk and disorderly, resisting and (to my mind) the ultimate felony, letting an old vet like Kevin Murray run you down. WIMP!
Ukiah Police Press Release on the incident:
On August 31st at about 6:56 pm, UPD officers responded with lights and sirens to McDonald’s in the 100 block of North Orchard Avenue, to investigate a report of a vehicle ramming cars in the drive-thru at the location. While en-route, UPD dispatch advised that the suspect had pepper sprayed two civilians, who were attempting to detain him after the collision. Upon arrival, officers found the suspect’s 1999 Silver Toyota Rav4 abandoned in the drive-thru, with its airbags deployed. The vehicle was resting in a planter, against a light pole. The driver had fled and officers located him running northbound through the parking lot of JC Penny. When officers went to contact the driver, he refused to cooperate and had to be physically restrained. The driver was identified as Michael Blahut, age 44, a Redwood Valley resident. During the subsequent investigation officers learned that Blahut was in the drive-thru, when he rear-ended a stopped 2016 Honda CRV and then drove his vehicle into a light pole. The manager of McDonald’s went outside to contact Blahut, who was attempting to flee the scene. When the manager and a local citizen attempted to detain Blahut, Blahut pepper sprayed both and fled. As officers were dealing with Blahut, he was found to be intoxicated. Blahut was placed under arrest for misuse of pepper spray, hit and run, resisting arrest and DUI. Blahut’s vehicle was towed from the scene and he was booked into county jail. Fortunately, no serious injuries were reported.