Originally created 09/06/06

Fatal drunken driving case ends in probation



DOUGLAS, Ga. - A woman convicted of driving under the influence in a crash that killed five children in a 2003 all-terrain vehicle accident was sentenced Tuesday to a year of probation.

Coffee County Superior Court Judge Michael Boggs' probation sentence for Amanda Troupe included spending nine months in a probation detention center, a month in an alcohol treatment center and 100 hours of community service.

A quarter of the community service hours must be used to give speeches on the risks of drinking and driving to the Waycross Judicial Circuit's six high schools to educate youths about the dangers of drinking and driving.

The judge gave Ms. Troupe, 32, the maximum allowed sentence under the state's DUI statute, said Cynthia Hagain, the state victim's service coordinator for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

When Judge Boggs gave the sentence, the family members of the children killed in the accident showed no reaction and were silent. Ms. Troupe also was silent.

"The families are pleased that the judge imposed the maximum sentence allowable under the DUI statute and ordered rehabilitation," Ms. Hagain said.

Ms. Troupe, a doctor's office receptionist, originally faced homicide charges in the Sept. 20, 2003, crash on a rural road in the Southeast Georgia county but was acquitted Aug. 28 by a Coffee County jury. The jury found her guilty of driving under the influence and driving under the influence "to the extent that it is less safe for the person to drive," which carry a maximum sentence of one year each.

After the crash, Ms. Troupe was found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.155, nearly double the state's legal limit of 0.08. Ms. Troupe testified in the trial that she was not intoxicated, having only a few drinks at a restaurant and one beer while she was driving after she and her friends left the restaurant, according to the Douglas Daily News.

Prosecutor Rick Currie said the sentence was about what he expected, but his real disappointment was in the jury's failure to convict Ms. Troupe for vehicular homicide. She originally faced a maximum sentence of 91 years in jail on a 20-count indictment.

Heather Bass, then 13, was the only survivor among the children who were hit while riding the ATV. Killed were Meagan Nelson, 13; Kayla and Dustin Varnedore, ages 13 and 11, respectively; Lindsay Joyner, 13; and Courtney Arsenault, 10.

Heather, now 16, read a poem to Ms. Troupe in court. In the poem she implied that she had attempted suicide by using pills, slashing her wrist and suffocating herself with a pillow because the accident had traumatized her.

"Quite frankly, you couldn't be me. It would kill you. You don't know what it's like to feel an absence in your life, heart and soul," Heather read in court.

"You don't know what it's like to cry every day and feel guilty when your eyes dry up for a few hours. You don't know what it's like to feel in love with suicide. You will never understand the pain you have cast upon my heart ... may you feel every bit of torture you've put me through these past three years."

The defense told jurors the children and their parents were just as responsible for the wreck.