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Johnson may go to jail following 2nd DUI arrest

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Marty Johnson

Marty Johnson

Troubled Utah running back Marty Johnson will likely have his probation revoked and be sent to jail following a second DUI arrest in less than a year.

On Sept. 11, just 45 days after Johnson received a suspended jail sentence for an October 2002 incident near Rice-Eccles Stadium, he was arrested again. Johnson pleaded guilty in July to a pair of Class B misdemeanors for driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an injury accident.

The new allegations also include DUI, as well as citations for negligent collision and driving with a revoked license. Johnson was removed from his vehicle at gunpoint after ignoring police commands following a crash over a curb at 70 S. 900 East at 5:55 a.m. Police said a Breathalyzer test revealed his blood-alcohol level was 0.172 — more than twice the legal limit.

According to police reports, Johnson attempted to leave the scene but was unable to move his 1977 Jeep Cherokee. The combination of flat tires and wet grass impeded his progress. Salt Lake police, who were responding to a call that Johnson's vehicle had not moved for 15 minutes while protruding into the intersection at 900 East and 100 South, witnessed the incident.

They turned on their lights and yelled at Johnson to stop trying to leave, but he didn't respond until his vehicle stalled. Johnson then threw open his door — prompting an officer to draw his weapon — and was taken into custody without further incident.

Prosecutor Sim Gill said he will file a motion with the court within 48 hours to re-examine whether Johnson should remain on probation or go to jail. Gill vows the matter will get the appropriate attention it deserves. Driving under the influence, he explained, is something his office aggressively prosecutes.

"It's a serious matter," Gill said. "We don't care who you are."

Johnson was suspended indefinitely by Utah coach Urban Meyer earlier this week. Meyer, who didn't learn about the arrest until after Utah's 31-24 victory over California, said it's too early to know if or when the tailback will be reinstated. Johnson, who has two years of eligibility left after being granted a medical hardship by the NCAA, has appeared in just three games since joining the Utes as a junior college All-America in 2001. He was supposed to play in Utah's season opener against Utah State but was held out to serve a one-game suspension Meyer imposed for the first DUI.

On July 28, 3rd District Judge Ann Boyden sentenced Johnson to 180 days in jail and ordered him to pay a fine ($1,300) and make restitution ($3,472) by Feb. 28, 2004. All but two days of incarceration were suspended as long as probation conditions were met. The other two days would be erased if 48 hours of community service were completed by Jan. 28, 2004.

As is standard in such cases, conditions of Johnson's probation include a requirement not to violate any laws. And back-to-back DUI allegations, Gill said, raise serious concerns for community safety.

Meyer has heard people making light of it but insists there is nothing funny about it.

"It's a tragedy. It's tragic," Meyer said after practice Wednesday. "We're not going to abandon a guy that needs help. So, we're going to try to provide some help. How we're going to do that, I don't know. It's a difficult thing."

Citing confidentiality issues, both Meyer and Utah athletic director Chris Hill opted not to discuss specifics. Hill said the university has a Wellness Team in place to help student-athletes like Johnson work through uncomfortable situations. The professional consultants are retained by the athletic department and work privately with those in need. Like all other athletes at the school, Johnson has access to such help.

After his October arrest, Johnson completed an eight-week alcohol aftercare program. He also took weekly drug and alcohol tests.

Attorney Gil Athay, who represented Johnson on the first DUI charge and employed the football star at his firm last summer, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. At the court appearance in July, however, he said Johnson was remorseful. The 23-year-old has refused all media interview requests for the past several months.

"There's no question he realizes the mistake he made," Athay said at the time. "There's no question he realizes the dangers of alcohol . . . and the damaging impact it can have on him and his future."

On the field, Johnson's suspension means Mountain West Conference rushing leader Brandon Warfield will have to continue carrying the load for the Utes.

"I can do it. I've been trained to do it," Warfield said. "I've been doing it my whole life. It's not the first time I've been getting most of the carries in a game."

In Utah's first three games, he's carried the ball 99 times — netting 448 yards and seven touchdowns. Johnson, who hasn't played a single down in 2003 because of a one-game suspension and a foot injury, was expected back Sept. 27 against Colorado State.

Johnson's departure does, though, leave a lack of experience at tailback. True freshmen Mike Liti and Kyle Brady are Warfield's primary backups. Meyer is hoping to spread the wealth and balance Utah's offense behind the passing of quarterback Alex Smith.

Johnson's legal woes, which include a single count of disturbing the peace two years ago, aren't the only challenges the California native has battled. A rib injury limited him to one game in 2001 and an injured knee ended his 2002 season after two games. In the latter, he was leading the nation with 405 yards.

E-mail: dfacer@desnews.com