LENOX -- Retired TV personality Gene Shalit's misdemeanor charge of operating negligently to endanger after he drove his car into a utility pole and up against a Housatonic Street residence on Oct. 24 has been continued until April 2, when it will be dismissed.
The agreement between Police Chief Stephen O'Brien and Shalit's attorney, Leonard H. Cohen, was reached and approved during a magistrate's hearing to determine probable cause regarding the charges. Clerk-magistrate Thomas Bartini presided at Southern Berkshire District Court in Great Barrington on Wednesday afternoon.
"Attorney Cohen and I made an agreement that makes both the driving public and Mr. Shalit safe," O'Brien explained during a brief interview at the Lenox police station. "His case is continued for a period of time, to be dismissed."
The chief acknowledged that for the charges to be dismissed, Shalit will have to abide by the safety condition attached to the agreement.
Describing Shalit's demeanor during the court appearance, O'Brien said that "he was very appropriately concerned about the incident and very remorseful that it occurred. He understood an error was made."
At the closed-door court hearing, Shalit, 86, "indicated that he will have someone else drive him" until April 2, Cohen told The Eagle.
After that time, his driving status "will have to be addressed," said Cohen, adding that the Stockbridge resident's license has not been revoked or suspended.
At the hearing, Cohen said he told O'Brien and Bartini that as the critic at NBC's "Today" show for 37 years, Shalit had reviewed a film directed by Spike Lee. The film's title was "Do the Right Thing," Cohen said that he told the magistrate and the police chief.
Asked to explain the extenuating circumstances that led to the outcome of the case, Cohen requested that his client's right to privacy be respected.
After the 12:30 p.m. accident at 120 Housatonic St., Shalit told Lenox police he had fallen asleep at the wheel. Property owners Donald and Gracie Rawson, who operate the seasonal Farmer Don's produce stand in front of their house, were not at home at the time of the incident. After hitting the utility pole, Shalit's vehicle swerved onto the front lawn and came to rest against the house, leaving scuff marks and minor damage on the siding.
According to state law, if Shalit had been found guilty or had pled to facts sufficient to warrant a guilty finding on the criminal misdemeanor charge, maximum penalties could have included a 60-day suspension of his driver's license, a fine ranging from $20 to $200 or a jail sentence of two weeks to two years, which could be suspended with probation.
Shalit, who had retired from NBC in 2010, was uninjured, but his Honda Element was towed from the scene because of front-end damage. He did not return a message left at his Stockbridge home Wednesday evening in time for this report.
The Eagle has published the obituary of Shalit's daughter, Emily Grace, 55, who died Nov. 28, 2012, at the Great Barrington Rehabilitation and Nursing Center after a three-year struggle against ovarian cancer. She had also lived with multiple sclerosis for several decades.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
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