Friday, June 24, 2016

Into the Furnace

The gauges of my car in Mesa, AZ, on Monday, June 20, 2016.

The Cedar Creek Fire seemed well on its way to containment when a heatwave hit the state last weekend. The extreme heat warning lasted almost a week, until Thursday (yesterday). The excessive heat and dry air led to worsening conditions, and the fire roughly doubled in size over that time. Consequently, the Cedar Creek Fire continues to loom over our communities as a not-so-distant, dark threat.

We live in the mountains, of course, at an elevation of 7,200 feet. For us, a heatwave is when the temperature approaches 100 degrees, or even the upper 90s. Unfortunately, on Monday Mark and I had to travel to the Phoenix area, where the residents know what true hellish heat is all about.

Thankfully, this trip marked the final Valley visit to handle the last of Mark's legal issues from five years ago. We were able to meet with his court-appointed attorney and resolve the matter to everyone's satisfaction. When we arrived at the court, where we spent the next four hours, we weren't so sure of a happy outcome. The prosecutors were asking for jail time, up to six months, and up to $2,500 in new fines for Mark's failure to pull over for an emergency vehicle and driving on a suspended license with no proof of insurance. (It was not a DUI.)

I did expect Mark to be offered a plea agreement, and he was. The first offer included home arrest with an ankle cuff, with the possibility of reducing the fine to just $500. Unfortunately, the home arrest option is only available in Maricopa County, and Mark pointed out that we live in Navajo County, three hours away. This flustered his attorney a bit. Mr. Atkins explained that the prosecutor on duty that day was pretty hard-nosed.

Eleven days before our meeting, I had mailed a letter and a packet of materials to Mark's attorney to familiarize him with Mark's situation. When I asked about it, he said he hadn't received it. More like "hadn't read it," I'm sure, but I was prepared. I pulled a copy of the materials out of my file, handed it to him, and proceeded to fill him in on the pertinent details.

My points: As of September 4th, Mark will have been clean and sober for five years. Fourteen months of his sobriety have continued since his release from prison. Mark has a job where he is valued and has been employed there for more than a year. He has completed parole and is current and compliant on his probation, including working hard over the past year to pay down his many fines and fees from his many bad choices in years past. Mark has severe learning disabilities that make it hard for him to find work, so it's important that he maintain his current employment in order to continue paying those debts. Why would the court jeopardize the job that is helping him stay on track and meet his legal obligations?

Finally, I told Mr. Atkins that Mark and I had agreed that a sentence including jail time is perfectly acceptable, as long as the jail time is suspended. Knowing what he knows now, I said, Mark deserves to go to jail if he screws up at this point. The attorney's eyes lit up. He could work with that.

He went back to the prosecutor and returned with a plea agreement that we could live with: 36 months of unsupervised probation (meaning he doesn't have to meet with a probation officer); a $1,500 fine (with a payment plan of just $40 per month for three years); and 20 days of jail time, suspended (meaning he doesn't have to serve a single day if he breaks no laws during his three years of probation). And they dismissed all other charges except the one for driving on a suspended license. Not too bad.

After Mark appeared and the judge passed sentence, Mark's attorney handed me my stack of documents and whispered, "You're a good woman." That made me feel really good. As for Mark, he was very relieved that it was over. He liked the idea that he'll never again have to appear in court as long as he stays on track. The power is in his hands.

We had a couple of other nice surprises, too. There was already a $1,091 fine in place in connection with this case due to Mark's seeming "disappearance." I pointed this out to the attorney, who was able to argue that it should be dismissed because Mark was in prison and unable to appear. The judge agreed. 

On another case, Mark owed $1,664. When I inquired about a payment plan, I was told Mark had to pay one-quarter of the amount upfront. Well, that wasn't going to happen! So I emailed the court, explaining Mark's situation and asking if he could just pay $50 per month. Apparently, my email was forwarded as a "motion" to a judge, who stunned me by giving Mark credit for "time served" and vacating the fine. Balance = zero!

So Mark was unexpectedly blessed by having $2,755 in fines and fees dismissed. Oh, there's still plenty to pay. His final, current balance is now $11,260 with monthly payments totaling $205 per month for pretty much the rest of his life. Okay, five years. But an end is in sight. In a few months he'll pay off the fourth of seven fines, leaving just three to deal with. That's progress.

As for probation, it may be three years unsupervised for this current case, but he's also doing five years of supervised probation for a 2011 aggravated DUI (aggravated because his license was suspended). However, even that is manageable. As long as he remains compliant, the probation will be reduced by two-thirds. Two-thirds! That means he can be off by the start of 2018, just 18 months away.

To our great surprise, Judges Tafoya and Fuji also restored Mark's driving privileges from two different cases. I think we'll wait a bit on that, though. With his record, the cost of insurance coupled with his fines is probably more than he can afford right now. Much as I'd love to no longer be Mark's main source of transportation, it's probably better not to go there right now. 

A rare "strawberry moon" accompanies our drive back home.
I learned that a strawberry moon is a very rare full moon on summer solstice.
Apparently the last one was about 70 years ago.

While in the Valley, we also took care of some banking and shopping. Our very first stop when we got into town was for lunch at Carl's Jr. As luck would have it, their air conditioning wasn't working. It was like eating in a sweat lodge. The official high temperature for that day was 116 degrees, but my car testified to 117 (see top photo). 

After our experience in court, Mark and I celebrated by going to dinner at Golden Corral. When we finished and stepped outside, it was almost 6:30, but it was still like stepping into a blast furnace. This is the reason I live in the White Mountains!

The huge strawberry moon as seen from our front yard after our return.
(My little camera doesn't take great moon pictures like Dylan's does!)

I lived in Mesa from March 1980 to July 1990. Some people prefer the heat to the cold, but my body doesn't sweat properly, so it was a miserable ten years for me. One of the worst things about the heat is the fact that, this time of year, it doesn't even cool down at night. Sometimes it doesn't even drop below 100 degrees, so there is no relief.

And so it was wonderful to watch on my dashboard as the temperature fell quickly, the higher we climbed. By the time we pulled into our driveway just after 9:30, it was a beautiful 72 degrees. That's our "heatwave" temperature. I love our mountain, even with the threat of evacuation hanging over us!

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