Courts & Crime

10th DUI conviction finally sends man, 70, to prison

MODESTO, Calif. — A longtime Modesto car dealer was sentenced to three years in prison Monday for his 10th drunk driving conviction.

Don Lee Thiel, 70, who once owned Thiel Motors on 10th Street, pleaded no contest to driving under the influence in July with a blood-alcohol content nearly twice the legal limit. His DUI rap sheet stretches back to 1974, court files show.

"There's some age he should have figured this out," Judge Marie Silveira said.

Silveira ordered Thiel to jail, where he is being held without bail. She will decide next month whether Thiel can be sent to a rehabilitation center in lieu of prison.

Thiel's attorney, Ronald LaForce, said his client has never had treatment for alcohol abuse.

"What's better? To send him to prison and sit in a cell? When he gets out he's obviously going to be a danger to society again," LaForce said.

Deputy District Attorney Jared Carrillo said Thiel could be out the door of the rehab center within three months if he's not sent to prison.

"That is a farce," Carrillo said. "He's had 35 years to avail himself of that opportunity."

A sheriff's deputy pulled Thiel over at 6:48 p.m. June 9 after Thiel reportedly cut in front of the deputy's car on Claus Road north of Briggsmore Avenue.

When asked if he had been drinking, Thiel told the deputy: "Don't do this to me, I'm too old for this s---."

Thiel's blood-alcohol level was 0.14 percent, over the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

"I have never wrecked a car or hurt anyone in any of my prior DUIs," Thiel told a probation officer.