Habitual drunk driver headed to prison

Becky Vargo • Jun 13, 2017 at 8:00 AM

A Grand Haven woman convicted seven times for drunk driving was sent to prison Monday, despite her attorney’s request for treatment rather than “warehousing” at a Michigan prison.

Karen Anne Robert, 48, was sentenced to 2-5 years in prison, with no credit for time already served.

Ottawa County Circuit Judge Jon Hulsing told Robert that there are a lot of tools at her disposal in the county once she gets out of prison. If she can stay away from driving, the judge said he would be more likely to send her to treatment, but he couldn’t justify risking the public’s safety based on her record.

Robert’s attorney, Chris Houghtaling, said he has gotten to know his client over the years.

“Truly, I believe we have a woman who is finally coming to grip with her alcohol problems,” Houghtaling said. “I believe she’s truly ready for treatment.”

Robert’s license was suspended at the time of the most recent drunken driving arrest. That incident occurred Feb. 7 at the intersection of 152nd Avenue and Rannes Road in Spring Lake Township, where she ran a stop sign and struck a car driven by Spring Lake teen Madelyn Nelson.

“She thought she was at a four-way stop and that Madelyn ran a stop sign,” said the girl’s mother, Michelle Nelson.

The only stop sign is on Rannes Road.

Despite the fact that the teen’s airbag deployed, Robert tried to get the girl to pick up her bumper, put it in the trunk and go home, Michelle said.

A neighbor saw the woman throw alcohol containers behind a tree. The woman also tried to leave the scene, but her car was too damaged to drive away, Michelle said.

Police responded and a blood test showed that Robert’s alcohol level was at 0.213, more than three times the 0.08 level required for a drunken driving charge, according to a court official.

Madelyn, a player on Spring Lake High School’s regional champion softball team, said she would never forget being hit by a drunk driver. She was 16 at the time.

Madelyn gave a victim impact statement at Monday’s court hearing: “We are both so lucky to have walked away,” she said. “I hope this accident is enough to scare her into never drinking again.”

Madelyn, who had been driving on her own for just a short time prior to the crash, said it was hard for a while to get back behind the wheel.

“It was a scary one (experience),” her mother said, “to be 16 and your first accident be by a drunk driver.”

Robert apologized to the teen and her mother, and then told the judge that she had hit rock bottom. 

“If you told me I would have to amputate my arm and it would make me never drink again, I would do it,” she said.

Hulsing responded: “Unfortunately, you are experiencing the fruits of the consequences.”

The judge noted that previous treatment options “didn’t stick,” and that she should have been asking for help to keep from drinking while on parole.

Prosecuting attorney JoEllen Haas asked the judge to go higher than the recommended sentence because of Robert’s history and the fact that she was on parole at the time of the crash. 

A record search on the Michigan Department of Corrections website revealed that Robert was sentenced to 1-5 years in prison for a 2014 incident in Ottawa County. Three drunken driving convictions were out of Emmet County in 2005, 2008 and 2012. All of the convictions were for a charge of third offense (or subsequent) operating while intoxicated.

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