The evidence shows Grand Island Mayor Jay Vavricek was legally drunk when state troopers pulled him over two and a half weeks ago. But prosecutors didn't think a 0.093 blood alcohol content was enough to charge him with a DUI.
"It feels like certain people get privileges and it's not right," said Roberta Barta, who was in the courtroom during Vavricek's arraignment on Wednesday, March 20.
Vavricek and his attorney struck a plea agreement with Howard County Attorney David Schroeder. In return to no drunk driving charges, Vavricek aggreed to plea no contest to his reckless driving charge. The plea agreement also included a $400 fine plus court costs and lab fees, but Judge Tami Schendt increased the fine to the maximum allowable of $500. The total paid by Vavricek was $643.
It's a deal that didn't sit well with some who were in the courtroom.
"I'm upset that anybody else is held to the same standard but somebody with a title is held above them. He's an elected official. He should act more responsible than anybody else, and that's why we elected him, because he's supposed to show more responsibility, more maturity," said Bobbey Olinger.
Vavricek's attorney said that while there were aspects of the prosecution's case they could have contested, they chose the plea agreement because there had been so much publicity about the case. The Howard County Attorney declined again to speak on camera, but when asked about the circumstances surrounding Vavricek's plea agreement, he said only that while such plea agreements did not happen often, they do occur occasionally.
In court, Vavricek said, "I'm humble to be here, Your Honor. I regret it, very much sorry for what occurred, it will never happen again. I appreciate your understanding in this regretful situation."
Mayor Jay Vavricek then issued the following statement to the public on Wednesday afternoon:
“Again, my family and I are very thankful for all the prayers, support, and acts of kindness from those who have reached out to us during this difficult time. I have learned much from my mistake and I hope to emerge from this as a better person and mayor.”
Vavricek was arrested on suspicion of first offense DUI on March 2.
Schroeder said he filed the reckless driving charge Monday afternoon.
According to the Nebraska State Patrol, Vavricek was stopped at Highway 281 and Highway 58 in Howard County Saturday March 2, after someone called in the vehicle he was driving as a possible drunk driver.
A trooper said that vehicle was driving on the shoulder of Highway 281 around 6:00 p.m. when the stop was made.
After sobriety tests, Vavricek was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and booked into the Valley County Jail. According to the citation and complaint report from Nebraska State Patrol, in addition to the first offense DUI, he was also cited for failure to use a seatbelt.
A local liquor store employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, told 1011 the mayor bought alcohol from her earlier that afternoon. She said he appeared to have a limp, but otherwise seemed normal. She told us the mayor frequents that liquor store.
Vavricek released a statement Sunday March 3, saying, "I am sorry and embarrassed for the events that have occurred in the last 24 hours. I apologize to my family, those dependent on me, and my community, and will take corrective action so they will never be affected like this again."