A 115th District Court jury on Tuesday convicted a Pittsburg woman of one of three counts of driving while intoxicated with child passenger, said Upshur County Assistant District Attorney Natalie Miller.
Courtney Farnsworth Lemmon, 23, elected to be sentenced by trial judge 115th District Judge Lauren Parish rather than the jury, and sentencing is set for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, said Miss Miller.
Ms. Lemmon, who is seeking probation, could receive 6 to 18 months in state jail instead, and Miss Miller said Thursday the state will recommend a jail term because of the offense’s seriousness.
Ms. Lemmon was charged with committing the crimes the night of April 28, 2012, while her three children, all under age six, were in the back seat of her vehicle. Represented by Tyler attorney John Eastland, she pleaded not guilty.
Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Sandy Mac Taylor stopped Ms. Lemmon on Hwy. 155 in a rural area for a defective headlight only five minutes after Winona police had stopped her for the same violation, Miss Miller said.
Miss Miller, who prosecuted the 2-day trial with fellow Assistant District Attorney Camille Henson, said a video of the traffic stop showed Ms. Lemmon initially told Taylor she hadn’t drank anything that night, but that he smelled alcohol, had her step out of the car, and performed a field sobriety test.
“She started changing her story,” saying she had been drinking in Austin and that something had spilled in her car either the day before or a few days earlier, Miss Miller said. Ms. Lemmon wanted a breathalyzer test, but state law requires a mandatory blood test, the prosecutor said.
The defendant’s blood alcohol level was .133, which is more than the minimum .08 level to be considered legally intoxicated, Miss Miller said.
The defense contended Ms. Lemmon was not intoxicated at the time she was driving.
But the Tyler DPS chemist who tested her blood, Karen Ream, “kind of blew that defense out of the water” by saying the stop happened around 11:15 p.m.and her blood was drawn at 11:40, Miss Miller said.
Thus, “there wasn’t that much time” for the level to rise or fall, and Ms. Ream testified the blood alcohol concentration was “very close to what it was at the time she (the defendant) was driving,” the prosecutor said.
Eastland also maintained that machines which test blood alcohol levels “can be wrong,” but the state obtained four blood alcohol concentration readings on Ms. Lemmon that were all very close, if not identical, Miss Miller added.
Jurors took about two hours to convict the defendant of one charge and acquit her of the other two, the prosecutor said. Asked why they reached a split verdict, Miss Miller said, “I don’t know. I guess they didn’t want her to have three felony convictions. . . I respect their verdict.”
The defendant neither testified nor presented any witnesses in the trial, which opened Monday. Miss Miller said she believed the children were in child safety seats, as required by law, when their mother was stopped.
The law on driving while intoxicated with child passenger applies to children under age 15.
Witnesses in the trial besides Taylor and Ms. Ream included Neil Sheffield, an ETMCGilmer hospital technician who drew the blood; and DPS Trooper Robbie Moore, who transported it to Tyler for testing.
Ms. Miller praised all four witnesses for their roles in the case, saying the system works because of them.
“We have some really great people working for our safety,” the prosecutor said. “Everyone did their job perfectly.”