Gilmer woman convicted of drunken driving with child sentenced

GILMER (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - A state district judge placed a Pittsburg woman on five years probation of a two-year state jail term Tuesday, one week after an Upshur County jury convicted her of driving while intoxicated with child passenger.

Courtney Farnsworth Lemmon, 23, elected to be sentenced by trial Judge Lauren Parish of the 115th District Court rather than the jury, which convicted Ms. Lemmon of one of three counts of the offense.

Ms. Lemmon, whose three children were with her when the offense occurred, was acquitted of the other two counts, said Upshur County Assistant District Attorney Natalie Miller, who jointly prosecuted with fellow Assistant District Attorney Camille Henson.

Ms. Lemmon must serve 30 days in county jail as a condition of probation and also was sentenced to 400 hours of community service — the maximum amount for the offense, Ms. Miller said.

Judge Parish also ordered the defendant take a parenting class.

Ms. Lemmon was charged with committing three counts of DWI with child passenger the night of April 28, when her children, all younger than six, were in the back seat of her vehicle. She pleaded not guilty and was represented by Tyler attorney John Eastland.

Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Sandy Mac Taylor stopped the defendant on Texas Highway 155 in a rural area for a defective headlight only five minutes after Winona police stopped her for the same violation, Ms. Miller said.

The prosecutor quoted Judge Parish as saying she had given considerable thought to the sentence, which Ms. Miller praised as "a just outcome" and "very fair." Ms. Miller said she did not seek a specific sentence, but that the defense applied for probation.

Eastland told the Tyler Morning Telegraph, "I'm impressed with the fairness of Judge Parish." He quoted her as saying she "had thought all week concerning this," and that she cited his client's need to support her children and not lose her job.

Eastland said the judge also commented that this was Ms. Lemmon's "first brush with the law, and that hopefully she will learn a lesson from it."

Ms. Miller said a video of the traffic stop presented during the two-day trial showed Ms. Lemmon initially told Taylor she hadn't drank anything that night, but that he smelled alcohol, had her step out of her 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, Ms. 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, more than the minimum .08 level to be considered legally intoxicated, Ms. Miller said.

The defense contended Ms. Lemmon wasn't 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 about 11:15 p.m. and her blood was drawn at 11:40, Ms. 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 that test blood alcohol levels "can be wrong." But the state obtained four blood alcohol concentration readings on Ms. Lemmon, which were all very close, if not identical, Ms. Miller added.

Jurors took about two hours to convict the defendant of one charge and acquit her of the other two, although three children were in the vehicle, the prosecutor said.

Ms. Miller said she believed the children were in legally required child safety seats when their mother was stopped. The law on driving while intoxicated with a child passenger applies to children under age 15.

Ms. Lemmon neither testified nor presented any witnesses in the trial. State witnesses besides Taylor and Ms. Ream included Neil Sheffield, an ETMC-Gilmer hospital technician who drew the blood; and DPS Trooper Robbie Moore, who took it to Tyler for testing.


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