Man with long DUI history pleads guilty to the latest, gets two and a half years in prison

Robert Owens of Stock Island apparently saw the writing on the wall.

Facing a long stretch in state prison, the 36-year-old fisherman on Friday pleaded guilty to driving under the influence -- the fourth time he's been adjudicated on such a charge. He's still going to prison, but perhaps for not as long as he could have.

"It's a sad situation. He seems like a nice guy when he's not drunk," said Carla Litrenta, the assistant Monroe County state attorney who prosecuted the case.

After pleading guilty Friday to nine charges stemming from an Oct. 1 hit-and-run crash on Stock Island, Circuit Court Judge Mark Jones sentenced Owens to 30 months in state prison followed by 30 months of drug-offender probation.

Following his release from prison, he must attend a residential rehabilitation program; complete the local offender re-entry program (not necessarily residential); and pay a $2,000 fine, standard court costs and restitution for the car he damaged.

He also had his driver's license suspended for life -- and strangely, even with that, the sentence includes having an ignition lock on his car for two years. Such a lock doesn't allow someone who's been drinking to start the car.

Owens pleaded guilty to felony drunk driving and tampering with evidence, and misdemeanor counts of failure to submit to a breath-alcohol test and leaving the scene of an accident. He also admitted to five counts of failure to sign traffic citations.

"It was not a negotiated plea," Litrenta said. "This was a direct plea in front of Judge Jones. I think he got some consideration in that he came in, he pleaded, there were no depositions even taken."

Owens was arrested after, while driving his father's black Monte Carlo, he struck Romualdo Balbuena's gold Honda Civic at 8th Avenue and Cross Street on Stock Island.

In his call to the Sheriff's Office, Balbuena said the Monte Carlo then sped away down 8th Avenue. After the crash, Balbuena did a U-turn and was able to catch up to Owens and block in the Monte Carlo until deputies arrived.

"The couple he hit, they were an elderly couple. They boxed him in," Litrenta said.

When confronted by Monroe County Sheriff's Office Deputy Juan Martin-Reyes, Owens reportedly said "what crash?" The deputy pointed out fresh damage to Owens' car including "a piece of red glass encrusted on it."

The charge of tampering with evidence is because at that point, Owens "took the red piece of glass and yanked it out of his Monte Carlo, throwing it away from me onto the dirt shoulder," Martin-Reyes wrote in his report.

Owens was also charged with DUI on Aug. 26, 2008; Jan. 27, 2006; June 22, 2005; and March 1, 2000. In addition, just like in his latest arrest, he was charged with refusing to submit to a breath-machine test during his 2008 and 2005 arrests. Thursday was also the second time he was charged with hit and run. He was charged with that during the 2008 arrest.

He was convicted on the 2000, 2006 and 2008 DUIs.

At the time of his latest arrest, Owens was on supervised release stemming from convictions of marijuana possession and obstructing a criminal investigation. Part of the terms of that release was he could not drive until April 27, 2016, so this time around, he shouldn't have been behind the wheel.