Image: Amber Turley, mom whose sons drowned
AP
Amber Turley pleaded guilty to three counts of child endangerment in the crash that resulted in the drownings of her sons.
By Associated Press Writer
updated 3/16/2010 3:40:40 PM ET 2010-03-16T19:40:40

A woman who drove into a lake after a late-night party, killing her three young sons, pleaded guilty Tuesday to three counts of child endangerment after tearfully telling the court she had been drinking alcohol that night.

Conway County Circuit Judge Jerry Don Ramey sentenced Amber Turley, 27, to three two-year prison terms, to run concurrently. She will also be on probation for four years after her release.

Turley sobbed as she addressed the court.

'Had a few drinks'
"I had a few drinks earlier in the night and drove my children," she said, crying.

She said she drank alcohol at a party before getting into the car for the drive home in the early morning hours of April 19 last year. Witnesses also told investigators that she smoked marijuana at the party.

Turley, of Plumerville, did not speak in court about the specifics of the crash or comment as she was led away afterward.

Prosecutor Tom Tatum said after the hearing that Turley had been drinking the night of the accident, became disoriented and made a wrong turn. He said she was also under the influence of marijuana and that she had been arguing with her "ex-spouse," her boyfriend and the children that night. She was also driving in a thunderstorm.

Investigators said Turley's blood alcohol content that night was .05 percent, below the state's .08 percent legal limit. Prosecutors said she also tested positive for marijuana and a prescription depressant.

James Turley, the boys' father, said after the hearing that his estranged wife has apologized to him several times.

'She's scared'
"She hates it, it was an accident," Turley said. "I think she's scared, hurting just as much as everyone else is." Speaking for his sons, Turley said, "They don't want to see their mother in trouble like this either."

After the sentencing, Pat Bradley, who identified herself as an aunt to the boys, read a statement in court on behalf of James Turley and other family members.

"You making some very bad choices brought us to a point in our life that no father or grandparent should ever have to face," Bradley said. "No matter what path you pick in life, never forget that moment that took our boys from us, and please never repeat the act that caused this. We hope it was not worth all the so-called fun you had that night."

After she finished reading, Bradley and Amber Turley hugged briefly and sobbed. Outside of court, Bradley said she believes Amber Turley should have received a longer sentence.

"This was the worst mistake (Turley) could have made in her life," Bradley said.

Another aunt, Vurlon Egger, called the sentence "completely unreasonable."

At least a year in prison
"She should have gotten at least 18 years," Egger said. "She knew when she got in that car to drive that she was messed up."

Tatum said after the hearing that Turley will spend at least a year in prison, receive substance abuse treatment and counseling, and have a year to contemplate her actions.

As for why she was not charged with more serious crimes, Tatum said he had to charge Turley with an offense that would likely result in a conviction and there were several elements in the defense's favor.

The street she was on, Johnny Walker Road, ran straight into the man-made lake, which at the time of the accident lacked a barricade. Turley's blood wasn't drawn until four or five hours after the crash, and Tatum said it would have been difficult to make stick expert testimony that she was legally intoxicated while driving.

He also said he had to consider whether Turley would be likely to offend again and noted that she was "very remorseful."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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