10-time drunken driver is sentenced

3 years in prison ordered for woman who drove van into rear of trooper's car

Carroll County

August 07, 2002|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A 43-year-old Carroll County woman was sentenced yesterday to three years in prison for her 10th drunken-driving offense.

Besides receiving the maximum term for her May conviction for driving under the influence, Brenda Lee Sawyer was given two consecutive one-year sentences for driving with a revoked license and leaving the scene of an injury accident. Those sentences were suspended.

Sawyer was sentenced for crashing her vehicle into the rear of a state police car and fleeing into a wooded area in November - less than three weeks after she had been released from jail on probation from a previous drunken-driving offense. She has a history of drunken-driving convictions dating back more than two decades.

Her lawyer, senior public defender Judson K. Larrimore, said Sawyer was "fully prepared" to receive the prison sentence yesterday.

"She recognizes that she needs to be punished," he said. "She's always known that she's going to jail, and we've never argued against it."

In a trembling voice, Sawyer told the court that her eight months of sobriety have been difficult, but that she wants to change - "and not be ashamed of how I've lived my life from this point on."

In arguing for the prison sentence, Senior State's Attorney David P. Daggett said, "She is not a victim. She never has been. She never will be. ... She drinks, and she drinks a lot, and she chooses to drink."

Patsy A. Kressig, president of the Carroll County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said after yesterday's hearing that Sawyer's case illustrates the need for tougher penalties for drunken driving.

"What worries me is how long she will serve," Kressig said. But she said the case had brought attention to drunken driving, and added that she was "quite frankly pleased" with the sentence handed down by Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr.

Sawyer had eight drunken-driving convictions in Montgomery County, where she previously lived, between 1980 and 1995. After she was convicted of her ninth offense last year, Burns sentenced her to a year in jail, with half that term suspended.

She had served most of that sentence when she was released Nov. 8 from the Carroll County Detention Center. She drove her Dodge Caravan into the rear of a state trooper's vehicle about 1 a.m. Nov. 27 on the eastbound shoulder of Liberty Road in Eldersburg and fled into nearby woods.

Sawyer told the judge yesterday that she went to a church near the courthouse a few days after posting bail on her latest arrest, and on her knees made a noise "not unlike that of a wounded animal, and the prayer that I cried out was not for God to save me from losing my house, my possessions ... but to save my soul."

On May 6, she pleaded guilty to the three charges and prosecutors dropped 10 others. She refused to take a breath test the night of the crash, but Daggett said in court that he would have called witnesses to put her blood alcohol level at 0.12 percent, above the legal limit.

Sawyer will get credit toward her sentence for time she has been in the Carroll County sheriff's custody since Dec. 5, when her probation from her ninth offense was revoked. She was first in a residential treatment program at Shoemaker Center in Sykesville, and, since February, at W House in Hagerstown.

Christina Trenton, executive director of W House Foundation Inc. in Hagerstown, and Michael Dionne, a Carroll County Health Department counselor, attended yesterday's sentencing, as did two friends from the recovery program.

Larrimore, her lawyer, submitted six letters and emphasized how well Sawyer has done in her treatment programs - at work, in counseling and in Alcoholics Anonymous, where she heads a Serenity group. He asked for leniency and local jail time rather than state prison.

Sawyer has lived in Maryland since 1979 and in Carroll since 1996, working steadily, usually as a waitress, her lawyer said. She had two years of college and a successful online enterprise in Fiestaware dishes. She was divorced in 1991, and a longtime relationship with a man ended with her most recent arrest - leaving her homeless.

Her parents, Bill and Glenda Sawyer of Leesburg, Va., were in court but declined to comment.

Trenton said W House will have a bed ready for Sawyer when she is released, Larrimore noted. Burns asked the public defender to see that Sawyer is transferred there immediately upon parole, which she will be eligible for after serving one-quarter of her sentence.

The judge did not address Sawyer directly. He added as a condition of a five-year supervised probation that she abstain from alcohol.

SunSpot.net has a profile of Brenda Sawyer from the April 7 Arts & Society section, at www.SunSpot.net/sawyer.

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