Caseworker Gets Probation In Neglect, Dui Case — (Sun-Sentinal)

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Sun-Sentinal

By Noaki Schwartz,  Miami Bureau

Posted February 14 2003

Miami — Mirla Pronga, the state caseworker who fell asleep at the wheel with a bottle of rum beside her and a hungry baby in the back seat, pleaded no contest Thursday to charges of child neglect and driving under the influence.

Pronga, a former employee of the embattled Department of Children & Families, was arrested last summer.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Lawrence Schwartz sentenced Pronga, of Hialeah, to three years’ probation with conditions. She must undergo psychiatric and alcohol evaluation, and may be treated for both, as well as attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings if found necessary.

The judge told Pronga that she cannot have contact with children under age 18 in a professional capacity while on probation. He also ordered her to pay a $500 fine and perform 50 hours of community service. Her driver’s license was also suspended for one year.

On July 25, Pronga, 56, picked up the then-71/2-month-old girl from a foster home to take her to visit her mother, Irene Coney. Eight hours later, the 11-year employee was found in Coral Gables drunk at the wheel of her 1995 Toyota Corolla with the baby crying in the back, according to a police report. Pronga, who was convicted of a DUI in 1993, was promptly fired by DCF.

Coney, who “was angry at the time it happened,” is satisfied with her no-contest plea, said Coney’s attorney, Robert Lawrence. He said the child will be back in the mother’s care this spring.

“Mirla is getting the help she needs, and we feel the penalties are appropriate to the circumstances considering the child wasn’t hurt,” Lawrence said.

Miami attorney Julio Cesar Perez, who represents Pronga, insists that his client was not drunk. Perez said Pronga began taking the antidepressant Zoloft because of all the “horrors and substance abuse problems” that she witnessed on a daily basis.