RAVENNA, Ohio — A woman who belonged to an obscure religious sect was found innocent Friday of child endangerment for breast-feeding her baby while driving, but was convicted of three other charges.
Catherine Nicole Donkers (search), 29, was found guilty of violating child-restraint laws, driving without a valid driver's license and fleeing police while on the Ohio Turnpike in May.
Prosecutors recommended Donkers be sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine instead of the maximum one year in jail and $2,000.
Judge Donald Martell said he would postpone sentencing to investigate Donkers "because I feel I need to know more about you." He issued his ruling after closing arguments in a three-day trial and did not schedule a sentencing date.
Child endangerment was the most serious charge she faced. Martell said his ruling reflected state troopers' testimony that they only saw Donkers holding the baby, not breast-feeding.
Donkers, who represented herself, and her husband, Brad Lee Barnhill, belong to a religion they say requires Barnhill to be responsible for punishing Donkers.
Donkers had said she did nothing wrong and was following her husband's orders while she drove alone with the baby from Pennsylvania to Michigan.
"We are people who do not shirk from facing the consequences of our actions. I pray that this court respects my faith," Donkers said in closing arguments.
Donkers argued that as a Michigan resident, she was entitled under that state's child restraint law to breast-feed while driving, even though she was driving in Ohio when she was stopped. Child restraint laws in Michigan exempt nursing babies.
But prosecutor Sean Scahill said Donkers should be punished for endangering the child's life because the baby could have been killed even in a minor accident.
"She placed that infant between herself and the steering wheel, between herself and the air bag," Scahill said.
Donkers said Thursday that for a short time she took both hands off the wheel to move the 7-month-old girl while the car drove in cruise control at 65 mph.
"I don't believe there was any form of recklessness," she said.
Donkers testified that she had stopped earlier on May 8 at a highway rest stop and fed cereal to the baby, a girl named Seren Barnhill. Donkers said she realized the baby was still hungry after she got back on the road.
"I called my husband, and he directed me to continue on, to drive to Michigan and nurse my child in the car," Donkers said.
"It certainly isn't a primary choice as a form of feeding my child. I certainly had no intent to harm my child. I never would," she said.
Donkers and Barnhill — who lack a marriage license but claim to be married — belong to the First Christian Fellowship for Eternal Sovereignty (search), which has a history of challenging the government.
The organization, which pledges allegiance to Jesus Christ, was founded in Henderson, Nev. (search), in the 1990s. Barnhill says he is a minister in the fellowship, which has 650 followers.
State police had pursued Donkers for several miles on the northeast Ohio highway before she stopped. She insisted on speaking to her husband before cooperating.
Testimony from a state trooper said Donkers had what appeared to be a homemade Pennsylvania identification card instead of a driver's license.
After the ruling, Barnhill said Martell was fair.
"He doesn't know us. He wants to know more about us. I think his concern is that this doesn't happen again," Barnhill said.
Barnhill said the couple was living temporarily in Pittsburgh for work, but Donkers was a resident of Livonia, Mich., when arrested.
----------------------------------------------------------------------I'm just wondering what you guys think about this lol. They were interviewed on Fox news and it was just amazing that they tried to justify everything she was accused of. She got convicted of breaking the child restraining laws, and if it is proven seatbelts save lives, isn't that child endangerment? Not to mention with air bags in the car it would fly straight into the baby's face.
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08-09-2003, 09:15 PM #1
- Join Date
- Jan 2003
- Trumbull, CT
Woman who breast-fed baby while driving
08-09-2003, 09:25 PM #2
You can't deal with religious zealot whackos. They believe that their beliefs are above the law and answer only to God.
I wonder what the reaction would have been if mother and child were invovled in an accident.... three scenarios:
#1. It was God's will.
#2. It was the other driver's fault.
#3. It was God's will and the other driver's fault, but since there is a potential for sueing someone, we will embrace the laws that we refuse to abide by under normal circumstances and sue everyone we feel is responsible for the tragedy...
Last edited by CaptainGonzo; 08-10-2003 at 08:21 AM."The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
Lt. Ray McCormack, FDNY
08-10-2003, 01:06 AM #3
Hey look, another stupid person, more job sercurity,lol. Why did'nt she just pull over and feed the youngin' while sitting still? Had she had a wreck, child probably would'nt have lived, plus the fact that it isn't too smart to remove both hands from the wheel.No longer an explorer, but I didn't wanna lose my posts.
08-14-2003, 10:26 PM #4
- Join Date
- Aug 2001
hmmm.... (pondering) does it take both hands... or only one?Firefighter/EMT Mitch Cowen
Hose Co. 1 1st Lieutenant
Randolph Fire Co. Inc
08-15-2003, 11:06 AM #5
Roadside parks, gas stations, truck stops... Whatever! For godsake PULL OVER. If you don't respect yourself or your childs safety enough to pull over at least do it for the other people on the road! Can you imagine first of all how hard it must be to get the child out, onto your lap and do all the other stuff that goes along with feeding and keep it on the road? Not to mention people passing her and seeing this I mean seriously it's an accident waiting to happen. Roads are for driving people not for feeding you kid! It's just not right!
Stay safe out there (look what we share the roads with!),
JanelleThe hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn...
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