Teen Driver Convicted In Death Of Friend Loses Jail Work Release Privileges

A Sierra Vista teen convicted of endangerment for a friend’s death last year has lost his work release privileges which had allowed him to leave the Cochise County jail several days a week.

Toby Andrew Clair was at the wheel when 15-year-old Mario Lopez fell from the roof of a moving vehicle June 24, 2019 during what investigators called a “roof surfing” activity. He was indicted by county grand jury several months later on charges of manslaughter, negligent homicide, and endangerment.

In February, Clair pleaded guilty to two felony counts of endangerment as part of an agreement negotiated by the Cochise County Attorney’s Office with input from Lopez’s family. The plea deal requires Clair, who turns 19 next month, to serve six months in the county jail followed by six years of supervised probation.

As part of Clair’s sentencing order, Judge Laura Cardinal deemed the teen eligible for a work release program offered by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) which operates the county’s jails. Clair was then allowed to leave the jail six days a week for six hours a day over the last several weeks.

Clair was brought back to court July 22 after the prosecutor questioned whether the teen had abused his release privileges. There was also a question of whether Clair could be permitted to begin working up to 55 hours a week between two jobs.

During the hearing, Cardinal addressed Clair concerning the privilege of being allowed work release. She also noted the Court has no authority to order work release for more than five days a week or 40 hours a week. The result is that Clair is now restricted to 8 hours a day, five days a week for work release.

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But Clair won’t be going to work anytime soon. That’s because Cardinal also heard testimony from CCSO Detention Lt. Ariel Monge about concerns with Clair coming in and out of the jail so often during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The result was a ruling by the judge that Clair’s current work release activities create “an ongoing risk” to staff and other inmates.

“The Cochise County Jail, in its capacity as custodian of the Defendant during his incarceration there, has the authority to, and may, suspend (Clair’s) work eligibility during the Covid-19 health emergency pandemic,” Cardinal noted. She added that jail officials had the authority to reinstate Clair’s eligibility at such time that he “can safely leave and return to the Jail for work release activities.”

Clair’s work release participation isn’t the only issue that has brought his case before the judge in recent weeks.

In mid-June, Cardinal signed an order which prohibits Clair from driving with anyone under the age of 20 in the car. The June 19 order notes Clair agreed to the restriction as part of his plea deal in February, but a stand-alone court order has now been entered at the request of the county attorney’s office.

Court officials have restricted public access to the county attorney’s filing that prompted the order. The adult probation office will be responsible for implementing the restriction, Cardinal ordered.

Clair’s two felony convictions could be reduced to misdemeanors if he satisfactorily completes probation. However, any violation of his conditions of probation could lead to him serving even more time in jail. There’s also the possibility he could be resentenced by Cardinal to a term of imprisonment.