Riverbank City Councilman Jesse James White, 23, was arrested early Monday morning, Feb, 20 on charges of driving under the influence and child endangerment after his 2002 Corvette slammed into a parked vehicle in Oakdale around 1 a.m.
According to police reports, White lost control of his vehicle and hit a 2012 Chevrolet Cruze parked on F Street near Mann Avenue.
The Corvette had major damage to the passenger side where White’s 4-year-old son was strapped into a booster seat.
Both airbags deployed and the child not only suffered injuries from the airbag deployment, he was choking on the powder that erupts when the airbag is activated, said witnesses.
A typical airbag deploys at speeds of 200 mph in less than 1/20th of a second and is designed to prevent a full-grown adult from going through the windshield during a crash, which is why national safety standards recommend all children under 12 sit in the backseat. Because a Corvette is a two-seat vehicle, unless the passenger airbag can be shut off, California Highway Patrol does not recommend a child under 12 riding in the passenger side.
The 4-year-old escaped serious injury but airbag-related injuries to small children in front seat collisions can include coma from blunt force injury to the head and death.
Witnesses helped pull the child and White free from the wreckage but when White was informed that the police had been called, witnesses said he took off running down the street, leaving his injured child behind.
He was tackled by two residents, one of whom was the owner of the Chevrolet Cruze, and forcibly detained until police arrived.
When officers got to the scene, they noted a strong odor of alcohol on White and said he was unable to stand on his own.
White became combative, trying to headbutt the arresting officer three times, and a firefighter once. He refused to cooperate and reportedly he kept repeating, “I’m Jesse James White and you’re going to regret this.”
The child was taken to Oak Valley Hospital for treatment of his injuries and then released to his mother. White was taken to Doctor’s Medical Center in Modesto for a blood alcohol draw. The results will not be available for two weeks.
White didn’t say why he had his 4-year-old in the vehicle at 1 a.m. or where he was coming from when he crashed.
The young councilman has been in trouble with the law before. When elected to the Riverbank City Council in 2008 at the age of 19, he was on probation for what the court called “wet and reckless driving” and classified as something less than but akin to driving under the influence. Two years later he was arrested on drug possession charges. That was settled last May when he accepted sentencing for a misdemeanor that involved neither jail time nor probation.
Ever since his election, White has faced a criticism for some of his decisions on the council and several attempts have been made to force him from office, including two recall attempts led by Virginia Madueno and Dotty Nygard
A Stanislaus County civil grand jury ruled in 2009 he was not a registered voter of the city at the time he took out papers to run for council and therefore had no right to assume his seat. The jury recommended he be removed from office. City officials said at that time only the Attorney General had the right to remove him from office but last May filed a superior court case against him under another law seeking to take away his seat.
It was only at the beginning of this month that the council withdrew that lawsuit, apparently to save the city further legal expense, when White said he would appeal legal action all the way to the California Supreme Court if necessary.
(Riverbank News Editor John Branch contributed to this story.)