The judgment and sentencing of Michael Blahut at the Ukiah Courthouse last Thursday was attended with such a sense of joie de vivre and so much promise of well-earned respite from those of us who have come to know the quintessential “nice guy,” that it almost seemed like a minor holiday, kind of an April Fool’s Day and Harry Potter’s Birthday rolled into one.
I was relieved — not to say glad — because Mr. Blahut won’t be following me to the Forest Club anymore, which had become his habit, trying to prove what a nice guy he really is.
Others too were relieved. One kid in particular, 12-year-old Owen, told the court that his encounter with Mr. Blahut had affected his ability to play baseball, and that he couldn’t sleep in his own room for fear that Blahut was creeping around outside his window.
Readers may recall that Michael Blahut is the guy who, drunk, rammed into a car in line at the McDonald’s Drive-Thru in Ukiah last year and pepper-sprayed two people who tried to stop him from running away after he then crashed his own car into a light pole.
The youngster Owen, whose game has suffered as a result, was in that car — the one that got rammed and sideswiped — and Owen’s dad was one of the guys who got pepper-sprayed while Owen with his mom and his sister left their smashed car and ran for cover.
Mr. Blahut has made such a pest — not to say menace — of himself since the notorious incident at McDonald’s, trying to convince everybody what a nice guy he really is, that at least one party, Gina Baltz, obtained a stay-away order from Judge Cindee Mayfield; and other parties familiar with Blahut have called our editorial offices complaining about Mr. Nice Guy (Blahut) and thanking us for our coverage of his adventures.
And so the judgment and sentencing began with the charges of vandalism and battery being resolved in a separate case in exchange for the stay-away order and restitution in an amount to be determined at a later date.
The victims of the pepper-spray were not seeking restitution. Mr. Habash, the McDonald’s manager, did not attend the sentencing, but Mr. Doug Shald was there with his family, and it was his significant other and the boy Owen who spoke. Ms. Johnson-Shald said that both her children were traumatized and, while it may seem like a trivial thing, the kids were both scared to death of going through any more drive-thrus; and both the kids were having trouble sleeping in their separate rooms. Johnson said as a mom she could handle these problems, but it was significant enough to deserve mention in an impact statement — along with other health issues suffered by Mr. Shald.
Probation recommended one year in jail and five years of formal felony probation, along with a treatment program for Mr. Blahut’s drinking problem. He had two DUIs before his big night at the drive-thru, and this was his third, not to mention the very likely impact his drinking has had on his ability to stay employed.
He worked for a very short time with Mendocino County and Lake County as a civil engineer — less than the probationary period. But there’s plenty of ways to make money in Mendocino and Lake counties without “working.”
This was an important part in the sentencing because, as defense attorney Anthony Adams pointed out, formal probation is expensive. Not only that, but Mr. Adams asked — rather, he “invited”—the judge to reduce the felonies to misdemeanors because with felonies on his record Mr. Blahut could no longer work in his chosen field: he has a master’s degree in civil engineering. Judge Mayfield said she had no evidence that was true, and so Blahut was sworn in and said it was true, that it was common knowledge. As noted above, however, Blahut has not worked as a civil engineer since 2016 when he apparently didn’t make it through the probationary employment period in both Lake and Mendocino counties.
Deputy DA Luke Oakley objected to lowering the felony convictions to misdemeanors. Oakley told the court the jury had the option of choosing lesser-included charges on the jury form, and that they, the jury, had not taken that option because they thought Blahut guilty of the felonies, and Judge Mayfield agreed with Oakley, and declined Mr. Adam’s invitation.
Adams then “invited” the judge to waive the fines and fees attendant to the convictions; Mayfield took a recess to check some case law to see whether that was legal. It turned out that a case involving a single mother had precedent, and while the judge noted that Blahut was not a single mother, she nevertheless waived all the fines and fees, which amounted to several thousand dollars.
The threat of at least three years in prison was left hanging over Blahut’s head, to keep him out of the bars and away from the booze and dope. But he will have to do a year in jail — unless he wants to do six months in residential treatment, then he can split it day-for-day, half in jail and half in treatment — and the five years of probation, which should give him time to think about why nobody wants to listen to him.
What is it about Mr. Blahut that nobody wants to listen to him? Could it be that he doesn’t speak with the voice of reason? And that right there, in the proverbial nutshell, is what we have with Mr. Blahut. With his car smashed up against a light pole and Ms. Johnson and her kids scrambling to get away from him at the scene of the crash, Blahut said to Mr. Shald, “Let’s go eat our hamburgers and talk about it; I’ve got money, I’ll pay for the damage, no problem.”
Here’s what I’ve heard him say to anyone who will listen: “C’mon, man, you gotta listen to my story, man, I’m really a nice guy, I’ve been wronged — all I said to those guys [the people in the car he rammed] was let’s go eat our hamburgers and I’ll pay for the damage, I’ve got money, no problem.”
And it was incomprehensible to Blahut that these people didn’t want to eat their burgers with him and hear about how nice a guy he really was. Now he thinks I owe him an ear, so that he can fill it with praises of himself, rationalizations and, in short, the oratory of self-justification and self-pity. He will no doubt find plenty of ears to fill at the jail, maybe some in rehab. Maybe he’ll write a nice long tear-jerker of a letter from jail.