Teacher enters plea to manslaughter

San Benito High School teacher William Johnson entered a plea of
no contest to one count of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter
Tuesday in San Benito County Superior Court for a July accident in
which his wife was killed.
San Benito High School teacher William Johnson entered a plea of no contest to one count of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter Tuesday in San Benito County Superior Court for a July accident in which his wife was killed.

The highly respected educator also pleaded no contest to one count of misdemeanor driving under the influence of alcohol and causing death or injury.

Johnson’s plea has the same effect as a plea of guilty. The only difference is a no contest plea cannot be used against Johnson as an admission of guilt in a civil hearing.

Johnson was charged with driving under the influence as a contributing factor in a July 14 accident on Airline Highway that killed his wife, Nancy McAbee Johnson, 49.

Acting on the advice of his attorney, Johnson and his family have declined to comment on the case.

Johnson’s court appearance was over almost as soon as it started. Superior Court Judge Steve Sanders read the charges to open the arraignment hearing. Johnson entered his no contest plea and Sanders set Dec. 17 as the date for Johnson to return for sentencing.

Johnson could be sentenced to a maximum of one year in jail on each count, according to the state penal code. He could also be find up to $5,000 for each count and lose his driving privileges.

Johnson’s defense team, led by attorney Margaret Thorning, entered the plea without any special assurances from prosecutors.

“There was no plea bargain whatsoever,” defense team spokesman and private investigator Dennis Stafford said.

Although Johnson has not asked the court for leniency, that has not stopped a growing number of friends, families and supporters from asking prosecutors and the court not to judge him too harshly.

The defense team has already received more than 100 letters of support asking that Johnson not be sent to jail.

“We’re still receiving letters of support and encouragement from former students and supporters,” Stafford said. “And (the letters) will be turned over to the probation department.”

Officials with the county’s probation department will prepare a sentencing recommendation for Sanders that may include some of the letters.

The accident occurred at about 1 a.m. July 14 along a stretch of Airline Highway just north of Best Road when Johnson was reportedly driving north in a 2001 Honda coupe with his wife. The couple was reportedly returning home from a wedding reception.

Because of his level of intoxication, Johnson allegedly lost control of the vehicle and it slid down an embankment, struck a fence and rolled over. Johnson’s wife, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected and suffered a severe head injury and a broken right leg, the CHP said.

Johnson, who was wearing his seat belt, suffered multiple cuts, scrapes and bruises.

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