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Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

Drunk driver faces eight years in prison for traffic fatality

By Shelley Grieshop
A St. Marys woman has admitted to driving with a blood-alcohol level four times the legal limit and causing the traffic death of a Wapakoneta woman on U.S. 33 in November.
Alissa L. Townsend, 48, 1109 Nagel St., faces up to eight years in prison after pleading guilty recently in Auglaize County Common Pleas Court to aggravated vehicular homicide, a second-degree felony, and operating a motor vehicle under the influence (OVI), a first-degree misdemeanor. A third-degree felony charge of aggravated vehicular homicide was dismissed during plea negotiations.
Judge Frederick Pepple can order Townsend to serve two to eight years behind bars. The sentence is mandatory by law, meaning Townsend will not be eligible for early release. Her operator's license could be revoked for life, and she also faces a $15,000 fine.
A sentence hearing is set for April 25. A jury trial slated to begin April 14 was vacated.
During the hearing in the Wapakoneta court on Friday, Auglaize County Prosecutor Ed Pierce told the court Townsend's blood-alcohol content - four hours after the deadly accident at 12:50 p.m. Nov. 17 - was 0.438. In Ohio, it is illegal to drive with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 and above.
The report from the Wapakoneta post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said Townsend was driving a car at a high rate of speed eastbound on U.S. 33, near the overpass for County Road 33A, when she rammed into the rear of an SUV driven by Heather J. Schaub, 40, an administrative secretary for the city of Wapakoneta.
The impact sent the SUV across the median where it overturned and skidded into the opposite lane. Schaub, who was ejected, was pronounced dead at the scene. Her 3-year-old son and only child, Fletcher Thomas - the only passenger in the vehicle - was injured and released from a Lima hospital the next day.
Pierce told The Daily Standard an accident reconstruction showed Townsend's car was traveling at least 87 mph when she applied her brakes. The car then skidded 110 feet before striking the rear of Schaub's SUV, Pierce said.
Auglaize County's 911 dispatch received eight calls from passing motorists who reported the accident, according to audio tapes obtained by The Daily Standard.
"A little black car just passed me going about 80 or 90 mph," a St. Marys woman tells the dispatcher, adding the car is weaving from one side of the road to the other.
Next, the caller says she saw a cloud of dust and smoke ahead and fears the worse.
"I hope to God she didn't go off the road ... Oh my God, I think there was a wreck," she says, her voice trembling.
Following Townsend's indictment in early December, she was sent to jail until being granted a release the week before Christmas. However, acting on a tip, police officers found her intoxicated less than two hours later. The action violated terms of her bond and she was brought back to jail where she remains.
Townsend in 2005 pleaded no contest to OVI and was sentenced to complete a driver intervention program and a victim impact panel presentation. Other charges of open container in a vehicle and child endangerment were dismissed. The charges stemmed from a traffic stop in St. Marys in which Townsend allowed her 10-year-old child to ride a skateboard while holding on to his mother's car, the police report stated.
Townsend also has speeding convictions from 2000 and 2001.
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