Attorney drops motion to close hearings



The lawyer of an Angels Camp teen accused of gross vehicular manslaughter and drunken driving causing a death withdrew his motion yesterday to bar the press from future court hearings.

One week ago, Richard A. Meyer, a Modesto attorney, asked that reporters representing The Union Democrat, The Calaveras Enterprise and The Stockton Record be banned from covering further criminal proceedings against his client, Zachary Airola, 18.

After Meyer filed this, Deputy District Attorney Dan McConnell issued a statement that the media has a right to attend future hearings because of the severity of the charges. Normally, juvenile proceedings are closed, and Airola was 17 when the crash that killed his friend occurred on Aug. 5.

The Angels Camp teen is accused of driving drunk and crashing his pickup into an oak tree off Highway 4 east of Parrotts Ferry Road, killing George Langston, 19, also of Angels Camp.

Meyer's motion argued that the media should be barred because Airola was a minor at the time of the accident, and that continued coverage would prevent him from getting a fair trial.

Airola turned 18 on Aug. 26.

The three newspapers have together published a dozen articles on the accident and on a subsequent investigation into whether Airola and Langston had alcohol at a Murphys birthday party beforehand.

Most identified Airola by name while he was still 17. The Calaveras Enterprise published Airola's photo on its Aug. 8 front page.

McConnell's report states that, "It is not per se illegal for the newspapers to obtain information about a juvenile suspect's identity from the police."

Airola's name and age were disclosed by the California Highway Patrol in a written press release faxed to each of the newspapers the morning after the accident.

Meyer's motion also asked that Airola's name not appear in future newspaper reports.

Under the Welfare and Institutions Code, the court may order the minor's name to be confidential in an open juvenile proceeding if it protects the personal safety of the minor, a victim or member of the public.

The Union Democrat
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