A 50-year-old man cited for allegedly driving a Lamborghini at 152 mph — nearly three times the speed limit — will fight the traffic ticket he got in the Santa Ynez Valley incident.
But the challenge is to the infraction he was issued, which followed an original misdemeanor charge after a California Highway Patrol officer pulled him over on Highway 154.
Zhan John Akopyan of La Cañada Flintridge was stopped on Nov. 20 while driving an Aventador coupe west on the highway near Meadowvale Road, less than a mile west of the roundabout at Highway 246 in Santa Ynez.
In January, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office charged Akopyan with an infraction for driving over the speed limit.
The CHP citation had listed a misdemeanor reckless driving charge.
During a Feb. 6 court appearance, an attorney representing Akopyan entered a not guilty plea on behalf of his client.
Court records show the driver is represented by Beverly Hills-based attorney Nathan Soleimani, who declined to comment.
A trial has been set for 1:30 p.m. March 20 in Superior Court in Santa Maria.
“It is likely if Mr. Akopyan had continued driving in the reckless manner I observed, he would have been involved in a collision due to the high rate of speed,” Officer Joel Asmussen wrote on the citation that was submitted to the court.
“This highway contains multiple locations where there is a cross traffic and winding blind curves in mountainous terrain.”
Asmussen noted the man was approaching the four-way stop at the Baseline Avenue/Edison Street intersection, where traffic often backs up on the weekend.
Officers had recommended the driver face a misdemeanor charge and not an infraction.
District Attorney John Savrnoch, who noted he was unable to comment on the specifics of the ongoing case, said certain elements must be present and proven for a misdemeanor charge, instead of an infraction.
“It’s not just speed itself that makes a driving offense a misdemeanor,” he said.
For instance, street racing — exhibition of speed intended to impress somebody else — wouldn’t qualify in the case of someone driving a high-powered car very fast.
To prove a reckless driving charge, the incident would need to have an element of danger to others, which would include more than speeding on a relatively empty straight section of a highway.
The CHP noted the not-routine traffic stop and need to slow down in a social media post that garnered a number of comments.
“SLOW DOWN!!! 154 is the State Route NOT the speed limit,” the CHP’s Buellton office said in a Nov. 20 Facebook post. “We know how tempting it can be to ‘open it up’ when your car is fast and the weather is beautiful, but save it for the track!”
The post noted that the speed limit for that stretch of Highway 154 is 55 mph.
“We’re going to keep doing what we do best in trying to make the roads as safe for the motoring public as possible,” said Officer Michael Griffith from the CHP’s Buellton office.
Highway 154 and the people who drive on it have been the focus of ongoing safety efforts amid a series of crashes, many of them fatal.
Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann, who leads the Highway 154 Safety Committee, noted data indicate “unsafe driving is the No. 1 cause of accidents on Highway 154.”
“While they won’t eradicate unsafe driving, enforcement and penalties are important deterrents to avoid this practice,” she said.
Highway 154 does not meet the state’s requirements for a Safety Enhancement Double-Fine Zone.
However, local efforts have brought about minor improvements, such as new signage, striping changes and installation of lane delineators.
A roundabout was constructed at the intersection of Highway 154 and Highway 246 in 2014 as a traffic calming device. Another one will be built at the intersection of Highway 154, Baseline Avenue and Edison Street.
The CHP also has periodically received grants to boost its enforcement and education efforts.
Savrnoch, who took office in January, said he is an advocate for safety on local roadways, with a focus on driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, evading police and other offenses.
“It’s such an easily avoidable and pointless crime, the driving offenses, and it puts truly innocent people at risk every time somebody commits one,” he said.
Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at email@example.com .