OAKDALE — Riverbank City Councilman Jesse James White ran away from a traffic accident early Monday, leaving his bleeding 4-year-old son behind in his badly damaged car, witnesses report.
White was tackled and held down by community members until Oakdale police arrived. White, 23, was arrested on charges of felony driving under the influence and child endangerment.
"He was really drunk. I could smell the alcohol on him," said J.D. Visser, 19, of Farmington. Visser's parked truck was rammed by a parked 2012 Chevrolet Cruze that White reportedly slammed into on Oakdale's F Street near Mann Avenue.
White was driving his Corvette east on F Street with his son, Jesse, in the front seat about 1 a.m. The boy suffered minor injuries, was treated at Oak Valley Hospital and released to his mother.
Attempts to reach White's family for comment were unsuccessful Monday. He posted bond on his $25,000 bail Monday afternoon and was released from the Stanislaus County Jail.
"(White) had to be going pretty fast because he hit the (Chevy) really hard. It's totaled," said Visser, who rushed outside with friends after hearing the loud crash.
Visser said he found White trying to restart his Corvette, which had severe passenger-side damage and was sitting sideways in the middle of F Street.
"He kept telling us he had to park his car," said Visser, who suspected that White was trying to flee the scene. Visser said White eventually got out of his car, and Visser and a friend forced him to sit on the curb nearby.
Visser and others went back to the Corvette to rescue the child, who had an adult seat belt strapped over his booster seat.
"He gave me a hug and let me pull him out of there," Visser said, noting that the boy had a bloody nose from the deployed air bag. "He was coherent, but he was in shock."
Visser had planned to carry the boy over to his father, but when he turned around, he said, he saw White running a block down the street.
"Me and my friend (Roger Smith of Oakdale) chased after him. I tackled him, and we held him down," said Visser, a former Escalon High School football lineman. "What blew me away was that he was running away, leaving his kid in the car."
Visser said White didn't ask about his son's condition, instead "he kept telling me all this stuff about how I didn't know who he was and what he could do to me."
White was elected to the Riverbank City Council in 2008. He has had numerous run-ins with the law since then and there have been repeated failed efforts to kick him out of office.
History of substance abuse
Oakdale police arrived about 10 minutes after the accident. Officers said White had a strong odor of alcohol, slurred speech and trouble standing. He was arrested and booked at the jail.
White has a record of substance abuse. He was on probation for "wet and reckless" driving when he was elected to the Riverbank council.
In 2010, White was charged with felony possession of cocaine and misdemeanor drug counts after police said they found marijuana and cocaine in his home and marijuana in his vehicle. In May, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drug charge, allowing him to stay in office.
"I am grateful he and his son were not seriously injured," Riverbank Councilwoman Jeanine Tucker said Monday. "Hopefully this will be a wake-up call for him to take care of the substance abuse issues he obviously has."
If White is convicted of a felony, he would be forced out of office. Tucker said she doesn't think he should wait for that to happen.
"I would like to see Mr. White do the right and honorable thing and step down now," she said.
Grand jury advised removal
White has survived two attempts to remove him.
The first came after a 2009 grand jury report concluded that White was not a Riverbank resident when he filed to run for council. That report recommended the city remove White from office, but at the time, city officials said they lacked the authority. White said he had complied with all eligibility requirements.
The second ouster effort came after White's 2010 drug arrest, when Mayor Virginia Madueño and Councilwomen Tucker and Dotty Nygard initiated legal proceedings. Councilman Richard O'Brien opposed that action, saying it was a waste of taxpayer money.
The city abandoned the effort earlier this month after spending more than $53,000.
Madueño and Riverbank's interim city manager, Pam Carder, said Monday they had "no comment" on White's arrest. O'Brien and Nygard could not be reached.
White's council term ends this year, and he has not announced whether he intends to seek re-election in November. White earns about $325 per month for serving as a councilman.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2196.