Westport woman gets judicial leniency on charge of drunkenness with child in car
After demonstrating to a state judge in Norwalk that she is striving to change her life, a Westport woman who had passed out from extreme drunkenness in her minivan last May as her 4-year-old daughter pawed at the windows, is poised to avoid prosecution on a child endangerment charge.
At a hearing Wednesday in Norwalk Superior Court, Rory O'Neill, 39, of 16 Baker Ave., was granted permission to participate in a court program that allows first-time offenders to wipe away the charges against them so long as they do not get into trouble with the law while on probation.
Last May 18, O'Neill was charged with risk of injury to a child after police were called about 3:30 p.m. to the Westport YMCA on the report of a woman who got sick in a car and passed out with a small child in the vehicle.
When police arrived, they said that a sleeping O'Neill had vomit all over her and the front passenger area of the van. A small girl in the van appeared very upset, crying and calling for her mommy, the arrest affidavit said.
O'Neill was incoherent and kept repeating to police, "We are OK," the affidavit said.
Paramedics were called and O'Neill was transported to Norwalk Hospital, where her blood alcohol level was determined to be 0.34, more than four times the legal driving limit of 0.08, the affidavit said.
The child told police that O'Neill drove her to the YMCA for a children's dance class.
He said that since her arrest, O'Neill has attended 227 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the 231 days since she was found in the parking lot by Westport police. He said that she has an active sponsor in the program and is also involved in a 12-step program to fight the urge to drink.
As O'Neill, a small woman, stood silently before Hudock, Fitzpatrick also said that she is participating in a recovery group outpatient program administered by St. Vincent's Medical Center in addition to seeing a psychologist and a counselor.
Fitzpatrick said O'Neill is pursuing four kinds of treatment for her alcohol problems.
"She may very well be in treatment for the rest of her life," he said. "I cannot imagine anyone doing more to address her problems. She has extreme remorse over this ... She deeply regrets this incident," Fitzpatrick added.
As a result of her efforts, Fitzpatrick said O'Neill was a good risk for the court's diversionary program that allows only those with no prior criminal record to participate.
Assistant State's Attorney Tiffany Lockshier objected to the application because she said O'Neill's offense was too serious to be considered under the diversionary court program called Accelerated Rehabilitation.
Before he told O'Neill that he would allow her into the program, Hudock spent almost 10 minutes talking to her in front of a nearly full courtroom.
He said that he wanted to hear what her commitment to sobriety entailed and what she has done to understand her illness.
Hudock said the case "tugged at the heart strings," and while he was aware that he risks criticism in this case for imposing something much less than a maximum sentence for the offense, he said in effect he is willing to take the chance on O'Neill.
"In large measure, madam, you are getting this program for what you have done to yourself," Hudock said.
Hudock told O'Neill that she will remain in the program for two years, the maximum allowed under law. At the end of the probationary period, so long as she does not violate the law or the conditions of her probation, her charge will be wiped away and her criminal slate will remain clean.
If not, the states attorney's office can reinstitute the charge and prosecute her as if she never participated in the program.
After the hearing, O'Neill declined comment through her lawyer.
"This was a difficult case and, in the end, it was a fair and just disposition," Fitzpatrick said.
During her probation, O'Neill must attend at least one AA meeting per week, visit a probation officer monthly and participate in random alcohol testing by the probation department. She must also complete 250 hours of community service, continue her counseling and go to two MADD Victim Impact Panels.