Health director pleads guilty in second DUI

Cooper could face 10 days in jail

Montezuma County Health Department director Lori Cooper pleaded guilty Thursday to a drunken-driving charge.

According to prosecutors, she was convicted last year on a DUI charge in Payson, Ariz., on March 12, 2013.

Appearing before Montezuma County Judge JenniLynn Lawrence, Cooper pleaded guilty to DUI on Thursday, March 20. Under the proposed plea agreement, Cooper could face a mandatory minimum jail term of 10 days, pending a drug and alcohol evaluation. Her sentencing was scheduled for May 6 at 1:30 p.m.

Director of the county health department since 1998, Cooper, 58, of Dolores was arrested on March 5, charged by the Cortez Police Department with DUI, DUI per se, weaving and open container in a motor vehicle, according to court records.

Court records also reveal that 911 dispatchers received a REDDI (Report Every Drunk Driver Immediately) call for a vehicle driving westbound on Highway 160 at a “slow rate of speed” and “weaving” on the night in question. Police stopped Cooper near East Empire Street and North Dolores Road just after 10 p.m.

Police reported that Cooper swayed in a circular motion while talking to law enforcement and refused to perform any voluntary roadside maneuvers at the scene, police said.

Police also allege that a 200-milliliter bottle of vodka, three-quarters full, was in plain view on the passenger side floorboard, according to court records.

A Breathalyzer test at the police station indicated that Cooper had a blood alcohol content of .248, according to records.

Undersheriff Lynda Carter said Cooper was released from the jail on March 6 after posting a $1,000 bond.

Cooper’s attorney, Jill Carlson, said letters of support from health department employees have been submitted on her client’s behalf, but she dismissed reports that employees were pressured into writing the letters.

“My client didn’t even know about the letters until after they were written,” Carlson said. “No threats or promises were issued.”

A Montezuma County sheriff’s official said Cooper was enrolled in the department’s pretrial services program for a second DUI offense.

Designed to enable defendants to return to normal life while awaiting trial, the pretrial services program requires suspects to comply with court-ordered conditions such as random drug or alcohol testing.

Cooper was initially hired at the county health department as a registered nurse in 1995. She was appointed to lead the agency in 1998. Officials said she remains employed with the county health department.

tbaker@cortezjournal.com