Originally created 07/10/02

Al Unser Jr. charged with hitting woman



INDIANAPOLIS -- Al Unser Jr. was arrested Tuesday on charges he hit a woman in the face before leaving her on the side of a highway in the middle of the night.

The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner was released from the Marion County jail after posting a $30,000 bond on preliminary misdemeanor charges of domestic battery and domestic violence. He avoided reporters when he left.

The woman, Jena L. Soto, was found standing next to a guardrail on Interstate 465 at about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday. She told police she was Unser's girlfriend of four years.

Soto was driving the car because Unser was drunk, she said. She told police she hit Unser first to stop him from trying to shift the gears, and that Unser responded by hitting her in the face.

The 40-year-old Unser was arrested at his motor home on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway infield. A hearing is scheduled for July 19, sheriff's Col. Scott Minier said.

The preliminary charges against Unser are each punishable by up to a year in jail. The Marion County prosecutor's office will determine whether to file formal charges after police submit the case for review, Minier said.

Officials with Unser's Indy Racing League team had no immediate comment, Kelley Racing spokeswoman Nancy Miller said. A telephone message left for Unser's attorney, James Voyles, was not immediately returned.

The 38-year-old Soto, of Albuquerque, N.M., told police she and Unser had been at a strip club. She said they were arguing and that he repeatedly shifted the gears into neutral and reverse.

Soto told police she pulled to the side of the highway after Unser hit her, got out of the vehicle, and that Unser then drove away.

Unser first denied knowing Soto, police said. After being told of her accusations, Unser told police Soto had hit him first.

Unser, the winner of the Indy 500 in 1992 and '94, was to play in a charity golf tournament Thursday at the speedway's course and then drive Saturday in an IROC race at Chicagoland Speedway, Miller said.