An April 2006 study by Virginia Tech and the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration found that "almost 80 percent of crashes" involve driver inattention to the road "within three seconds" of an accident. The study blamed cell phone use as the most common form of driver distraction. It also noted that other activities—like reaching for a cup or talking to passengers—are statistically more dangerous.
But the federal report didn't examine cases where a driver uses a cell phone while engaged in sex or smooching. Not to worry. For these dangers we can turn to Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona, the self-proclaimed conservative Christian politician and accused serial adulterer who is seeking re-election on June 6.
Evidence obtained by the Weekly places Carona inside a moving vehicle while, well, affectionately engaged with a then-low ranking sheriff's department employee. The pair kissed, giggled, moaned, groaned, cleaned up and offered expressions of love. After the 45-minute romp, the female said to Carona, "Do I still smell like you?"
The sheriff said, "A lot! A lot! A lot! A lot! A lot! A lot!"
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"How do we hide it?" she replied.
Through a private attorney, the sheriff declined interview requests, demanded a copy of the recording, and implied he might claim it's been doctored. However, the woman confirmed details of the encounter. She asked that her name not be used in this article for fear of retaliation.
But it's not just her word. Neither Carona nor the woman knew at the time that their physical activities in the vehicle had inadvertently activated the redial button on a cell phone. And this is where Carona's already stunning gift for creating scandal becomes legendary. An audio recording of the affair was left on an unwitting person's telephone answering machine.
This time, the sheriff—a man predisposed to blame his foibles on underlings, friends, acquaintances and the media—had fingered himself, so to speak.
Powerful politicians often lead double lives, the public versions contrary to reality. In Carona's case, the gap appears staggering. He portrays himself as a simple man committed to his faith, his family and his duty. But if Carona has proven anything in his seven years in power, it's that he's a scandal magnet. Among other well-documented missteps, Carona has:
•partied and accepted contributions from a colorful Las Vegas mafia associate and strip club owner
•given official badges and guns to large campaign contributors, some of them emotionally unstable
•accepted tens of thousands of dollars in illegal contributions, once taking $49,000 from a man with a 30-year crime record
•allowed Joseph Medawar, a con man with ties to Saudi Arabia and now a convicted felon, to film a top-secret anti-terrorist training exercise
•offered free inmate labor to a political campaign contributor
•watched the grand jury indict several close friends on corruption charges
•sent birthday cards to his best friend's wife—cards in which he referenced "butt floss" and his now notorious penis, which he calls "The Little Sheriff."
Last year, as he planned to renege on his pledge to run for no more than two terms, Carona huddled with his PR advisers. He wanted a strategy to downplay the persistent infidelity rumors. The team decided to blame George Jaramillo, the sheriff's longtime No. 2, who is currently facing bribery charges based on his relationship with a felon he met through Carona. Publicly, they said Jaramillo was determined to spread lies about the sheriff. As for the women who alleged the sheriff had approached them for sex, they were portrayed as nuts.
But the sex stories—all of them told reluctantly, some of them by women compelled to testify under oath before the grand jury—kept coming (so to speak): Carona's unwelcome phone calls to another man's wife in hopes of luring her to San Francisco for a weekend sex romp; his persistent interest in a pornographic photo album of females (including county employees) inside the sheriff's executive suite; using an official helicopter to taxi a mistress and promises of employment consideration in exchange for sex.
Articles were published, even in the conservative Orange County Register. TV and radio reporters at LA-based stations got interested. And Carona—perhaps America's smoothest-talking sheriff—went to Plan B. He granted interviews only to trusted reporters and wore his now perfected who-me face. Then he invited reporters and the California attorney general's office to investigate.
His gamble wasn't entirely insane: many reporters are spineless, lazy and awed by power. The attorney general's office is understaffed, overworked and often loath to act on explosive, politically sensitive revelations—like the one that our balding, 51-year-old sheriff might be a slut. Satisfied by his own careful calculations, Carona claimed he welcomed their probes. So to speak.
A few months later, however, the Weekly found evidence of the sheriff's insincerity. In a phone message, he confided to defense lawyer Joseph G. Cavallo, his drinking buddy of 26 years, that he would retaliate against anyone who stepped forward with additional claims. It's no idle threat, coming as it does from a man with high-level police powers, an annual budget of $580 million, high-tech surveillance and bugging equipment and thousands of employees ready to follow orders. Carona is also a senior Homeland Security advisor to President George W. Bush and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The threat frightened several of the women who'd complained; it helped keep other women publicly silent. But the intimidation tactics failed on the one person who could easily unravel the sheriff's duplicity: Jaramillo, Carona's longtime confidant who was fired in March 2004. The two men, who once called each other "brother for life," have become bitter enemies.
It was Jaramillo's voice mail that Carona inadvertently redialed during his May 2001 encounter with the woman in the vehicle. That record was preserved and is now in the hands of the Weekly and the state attorney general's office. The lengthy audio recording sounds like a scene in a 1970s porn flick. Read it, and as you do, supply your own funky bass line:
It's dark out, and Orange County's sheriff is giddy inside a white Honda SUV. He gives his female companion a breath mint, then leans over and kisses her. When he's done, Carona says, "You're so fucking cute."
There are sounds of renewed physical contact. Moments earlier, it was the lawman who moaned and groaned. Now it's the woman who is expressing pleasure. She says nothing but giggles over and over. Carona whispers something inaudible. The woman giggles again.
She later recalls that the sheriff had been fondling her.
Unaware, Carona's wife and young son stand 50 feet away. Before exiting the SUV to join his family and attend an official function, the sheriff savors the moment with a sigh. He asks if there's lipstick smeared on his face; emboldened, he says he has half a mind not to wipe off the lipstick.
And then he tells his employee, "I mean, I gotta tell you, I . . . love . . .you!"
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