The 12 months Daniel Horne spent in Tent City were the worst of his life.
In his book Accidental Felons, Horne describes his awful year in jail after a 2005 DUI-related accident he caused. The 58-year-old professional dodged spiders, ate food that resembled garbage, and, he says, suffered "permanent lung problems" from lint spewing from a vent at the jail. He met other inmates he believed were getting a raw deal from overly tough county policies.
The former chief financial officer at a Mesa electronics firm made the rounds of television interviews this summer to tout the book, which he published this year with money in his 401(k) account. In the book and in interviews, Horne blasts Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and especially County Attorney Andrew Thomas, whom he calls "the most dangerous man in America."
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Thomas inflates the seriousness of crimes like Horne's in order to appear tough in the eyes of voters, he says. Arpaio, he insists, runs a filthy, unsafe, and corrupt jail system.
His points on Thomas and Arpaio may be valid. But they're blunted by a troubling fact: In both his book and in public statements, Horne minimizes what happened to the women in the vehicle he hit.
"There were no serious injuries," he tells New Times.
Marion Phelan disagrees. After the crash, she was sent home from the hospital in a wheelchair with sprains and bone fractures. Phelan was willing to forgive and forget — until she heard about his book.
"Did they treat him like a criminal? Because they should have," says Phelan, now 29 and living in California with her newborn son. "He calls himself the accidental felon. Well, I'm the accidental victim."
Just after 10 p.m. on the night of August 10, 2005, Phelan was driving her Chevrolet Tracker mini-SUV home with a friend. She exited the Superstition Freeway at Crismon Road and headed toward Southern Avenue.
Suddenly, she says, "I'm thinking, 'Why are there headlights in my lane?'" She slammed on the brakes. Horne's new, full-size Dodge Ram truck plowed into the Tracker head-on, crushing the smaller vehicle's front end.
Horne admits he was drunk — but accidentally drunk — when he crossed the centerline. He claims that a previously undiagnosed medical condition caused him to knock back too many beers during six hours at a sports bar. After half of the first beer, he says, he experienced a type of "hallucinogenic dream" and didn't realize how much he was drinking.
Though Horne refused a blood test at the scene, a search warrant was issued and he was compelled to give a blood sample. Authorities later stated that his BAC was .208 — well over the extreme DUI limit of .15. Horne claims that's impossible, based on the number of beers he had downed at the bar (as listed in a bar receipt). He says his liver wasn't functioning properly, producing a false blood-alcohol reading.
The family man who had never been arrested before was carted off to jail and charged with aggravated assault, a serious felony.
Phelan's name never appears in the book. Horne wrote that the woman's "foot had been injured" and that the prosecuting attorney told him she was "fine." In one passage, Horne tells another inmate that no one was "maimed" and that the county attorney had gotten "crafty" with his case.
True, Phelan wasn't "maimed," but she most certainly was not "fine." She suffered a broken ankle and broken collarbone. Her other ankle had two sprains, which meant she couldn't walk for days after the collision. Her friend made out easier, with just a sprained back and ankle.
In a June 29 e-mail to Horne, her first contact with him, Phelan wrote:
I thought i was going to die . . . As i reached for the door, my arm went limp, it was broke, As i tried to turn my body i could not for i was pinned by the steering wheel, I then went to move my legs noticing my ankles were twisted and caught in the pedals, my ankles broken.
In an e-mail reply to Phelan, Horne says he "made no conscious attempt to minimize anything that happened to either of us in the accident."
Yet a week later, in a July 6 interview on AZ-TV7/Cable 13 show AM Arizona, Horne told viewers, "In my case, there was no serious injury at all."
Around the same time, he was interviewed by John Hook of the local Fox affiliate, Channel 10 (KSAZ). Hook told viewers that only one woman had been hurt, and even then only "minorly."
Despite her experience, Phelan had mercy on Horne. Ironically, she was a substance abuser and former heroin addict who says she had been sober for months when the drunk driver hit her. But she fell off the wagon after taking morphine and other drugs for her pain.
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She checked herself back into rehab and regained her footing a few months later. Phelan saw her own past in Horne's out-of-control behavior and told Thomas' office that she didn't want Horne sent to jail or prison.
Prosecutors had been prepared to offer Horne a minimum of three years in prison, but because of Phelan's intervention, the plea deal mandated only probation and one year in county jail. Though Phelan says she "stipulated" that Horne receive help for his abuse of alcohol, he claims that tests showed he didn't need treatment.
Horne admits he was given the shortest sentence possible under the conviction, and that a supervisor from Thomas' office had to sign off on the deal. Yet instead of thanking Thomas' office for cutting him a break, Horne wrote a book condemning the county attorney. He maintains that the office should have never charged him with aggravated assault in the first place.
Much of Horne's book describes the ugly realities of life in the infamous Tent City jail. But had Horne front-loaded his book with more details about Phelan's broken bones, readers probably wouldn't find his tale of "injustice" as compelling.