Recidivist Drunken Driver Gets Suspended Sentence

Lawyer Says Woman's Problem Was 'Psychological'

February 23, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

An Aberdeen woman received a suspended prison sentence and probationon five drunken-driving counts last week after she pleaded guilty tothe charges.

The 39-year-old woman, Mary E. Phagan, was to be released from the county detention center yesterday after completing a 90-day jail sentence on a sixth drunken-driving conviction.

In December, District Judge John L. Dunnigan had agreed to put the five cases on the court's inactive docket because of what he called"miscommunication" within the State's Attorney's Office.

State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly last month reopened the cases after members of the county Mothers Against Drunk Driving group complained aboutthe decision.

Had the cases not been reactivated, the charges would have been erased from Phagan's criminal record after one year.

On Wednesday, Phagan appeared before Dunnigan and pleaded guilty to three counts of driving while intoxicated and two counts of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Her attorney, Robert L. Miller Jr. of Bel Air, asked the judge for a lenient sentence, explaining that the drunken-driving incidents were the result of a "psychological problem rather than an alcohol problem."

"She's getting her life straightened out," said Miller, noting that Phagan recently was married.

"She needs to get on with her life. It's time for compassion."

Dunnigan gave Phagan a suspended one-year sentence and a suspended $1,000 fine on each of the three DWI counts.

The judge gave Phagan a suspended 60-day sentence and a suspended $500 fine on each of the twoDUI counts.

A motorist having a blood-alcohol content of 0.07 canbe charged with DUI, while a 0.10 level is the minimum for DWI, under state law.

Dunnigan also ordered Phagan to get counseling and attend two Alcohol Anonymous meetings a week during a three-year supervised probation period.

Phagan was charged by Aberdeen police with drunken driving on Sept. 2, 14, and 27, Oct. 20 and Nov. 28.

The Nov. 28 violation occurred after Phagan's drivers license had been suspended.

Police said in their reports that Phagan's blood-alcohol content ranged from 0.08 to 0.12 when she was stopped.

In the Sept.14 case, police found Phagan sleeping in her car, which was stopped along the road with the engine running and the lights on, but they did not test her blood-alcohol.

In a sixth case, filed Sept. 30, Phagan was sentenced on Dec. 19 to serve 90 days at the county detentioncenter for driving under the influence, resisting arrest and malicious destruction, court records say.

She also was ordered to receivecounseling and attend the Victim Impact Panel, at which victims of drunken driving tell their stories to convicted drunken drivers.

Phagan attended Monday's panel, organized by MADD.

Phagan was allowed to participate in the county's work-release program so she could continue working as a visiting nurse while serving her jail sentence.

Kimberly Schaffel, coordinator of the county MADD group, said she was not surprised Phagan did not receive jail time in the five cases.

Schaffel, who attended Wednesday's court proceedings, said MADD has notified county police agencies that Phagan is being released from jail.

She said MADD members may begin following Phagan and alert police if they believe the woman drinks and drives again.

"We've done that on a number of cases," Schaffel said. "If that's the only thing that will work, we'll do it to keep her off the road."

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