Paragraph six reads: "Gochenour testified that her blood-alcohol content registered at 0.03 at the Shenandoah County Jail after her arrest, below the legal limit of .08. But she attributed her actions to the persuasiveness of the girl as much as the alcohol and medication."
Gochenour given suspended term, house arrest for putting 11-year old behind wheel
By Preston Knight – firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK — The pleas of an 11-year-old family friend were too much for Barbara Ann Gochenour to overcome.
After drinking six or seven beers over seven hours last July 4, Gochenour, not drunk but admittedly affected by the alcohol and what she determined was the wrong medication for her depression and anxiety, let the young girl take control of a 1991 Honda Accord around 10 p.m. The starting point was the girl's house in Toms Brook, and the destination was Gochenour's residence on Branch Street in Strasburg. Along for the ride, which was stopped by police because the girl was driving erratically, was the woman's 4-year-old son, who sat in the back seat.
The girl had driven before, but not with Gochenour.
"To know her, she is very, very, I don't want to say demanding. She always says she can do it," Gochenour, 41, said during her sentencing on two child endangerment charges Wednesday in Shenandoah County Circuit Court. "I wasn't thinking clearly."
Judge Dennis L. Hupp sentenced her to four years in prison, all suspended, for the pair of charges, and as a term of four years of probation, required her to spend 60 days on house arrest, which the defendant had earlier requested — if jail time were to be given — to care for her ailing parents. Sentencing guidelines called for probation with no incarceration.
Gochenour testified that her blood-alcohol content registered at 0.03 at the Shenandoah County Jail after her arrest, below the legal limit of .08. But she attributed her actions to the persuasiveness of the girl as much as the alcohol and medication.
"She jumped in the car and I should've said no and stopped her and I didn't," Gochenour said. "She begged all the time to be driving. … I know I made a big mistake and it's the worst mistake of my life."
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Ken Alger said the girl, whom Gochenour estimated to weigh 50 to 60 pounds, had no business operating what may have been a 2,000-pound piece of machinery.
"The idea that an 11-year-old has any idea how to operate a vehicle blows my mind," he said. "The lack of sound judgment here and the danger this imposed … we're talking seven miles … it's just astronomical."
Alger told Hupp that the fact the girl begged to drive and was allowed to do so reflects poorly on the defendant.
"That's your response? She's 11 years old," Alger said. "My 11-year-old niece and nephew asked me to do many, many things when they were 11 … and I laughed and never would even consider it. … Ms. Gochenour put all of us in this room in danger. It doesn't matter that other people allegedly let [the girl] do this in the past or what have you. This is not appropriate behavior."
He asked the judge to impose a punishment more severe than the sentencing guidelines, adding that the fact Gochenour was not drunk makes her decision to let the girl drive even worse.
Hupp said "foolish" and "stupid" were fitting adjectives to describe the crime, calling it "beyond comprehension."
"It was an extreme lapse of judgment on your part," he told Gochenour.
House arrest will begin as soon as a monitoring device is ready. Gochenour, as part of her supervised portion of probation, must serve 300 hours of community service in the next two years. Hupp also directed probation officer Cindy Ritter to see if a parenting class would benefit the defendant.