The head of the Sonoma County Department of Health Services drunken driving and drug addiction programs has been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.
Tom Newell, 53, was taken into custody Friday after he was stopped on Bodega Highway about three miles west of Sebastopol, CHP Officer Jon Sloat said Monday.
Contacted on Monday, Newell denied drinking but said he was taking medication prescribed for chronic pain. He would not disclose the medication, saying only he had taken it in the past and was able to operate his car safely.
?I wasn?t driving as carefully on windy roads as I should have been,? he said Monday.
Newell manages the county?s DUI program and two drug addiction programs that serve people referred by the courts. He oversees a staff of about 25 counselors and other employees.
Gino Giannavola, director of the department?s alcohol and drug services division, said Newell has been a supervisor for about 15 years and was a drug counselor for about five years before that. He said Newell?s programs handle about 2,500 cases a year.
He said he was aware of Newell?s medical condition but did not know the details of his arrest. Newell was not suspended, he said. ?It?s disappointing, to say the least,? Giannavola said.
Newell was arrested at about 3 p.m. Friday as he drove westbound near Furlong Road, Sloat said.
He was stopped by sheriff?s deputies, who called the CHP for a DUI evaluation, Sloat said, and was booked into Sonoma County jail. Results of a blood test are pending, Sloat said.
Newell said he wasn?t feeling well Friday when he got behind the wheel to drive to his home in Freestone. He said he has chronic pain from a hip replacement and five knee surgeries.
?That was the reason I was driving recklessly,? Newell said.
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