Ark. mother charged in child drownings

Children Drown
Amber Turley is charged with felony endangerment in the crash that resulted in the drownings of her sons. The county sheriff says authorities don't believe Turley meant to crash the car.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The mother of three young children who drowned after she drove into a central Arkansas lake had been drinking before the crash, authorities said Friday, the second recent case in which a mom was accused of drinking before getting behind the wheel with her kids.

Amber Turley, 26, was driving during a storm in early morning darkness on April 19 when she took a wrong turn onto a road that led straight into Brewer Lake, about 45 miles from Little Rock. She swam to shore but told investigators she was unable to rescue her boys — Aaron, 8, Alex, 7, and 2-year-old Anthony.

She was arrested Friday and is charged with three counts of felony endangerment of a child. Her attorney, Dale Lipsmeyer, didn't return a call for comment. Turley told Conway County Sheriff Mike Smith after the crash that it was simply a terrible accident. Her father, Larry Hopkins, told reporters Friday his daughter was not drunk when the car plunged into the artificial lake.

"She had a drink earlier that night, but the crash was way, way later," Hopkins said.

Prosecutor Tom Tatum said the alcohol was among several factors that resulted in the endangerment allegations, but he would not disclose results of toxicology tests or describe other elements that led to the charges. He said he considered several different charges, but felt the most comfortable bringing the endangerment ones before a jury.

Also, authorities didn't think Turley meant to crash the car.

"If I thought it (the crash) was intentional, there would be different charges," Smith said.

Experts say women in the U.S. are drinking more and drunken-driving arrests among women are rapidly rising. In New York last month, authorities said Diane Schuler of Garden City, N.Y., was drunk and stoned in Westchester County when she crashed while going the wrong-way on a highway with a vanload of small children, killing her and seven others. Her husband has said his wife wasn't an alcoholic and blamed the accident on "something medical."

Nationwide, the number of women arrested for driving under the influence or alcohol or drugs was 28.8 percent higher in 2007 than it was in 1998, while the number of men arrested was 7.5 percent lower, according to FBI figures that cover about 56 percent of the country. Still yet, arrests of drunken mothers with children in the car remain rare.

Father: Charges 'outrageous'
In Arkansas, Hopkins has said his daughter was trying to calm her children when she unexpectedly drove into the lake.

According to Smith, Aaron told his mom he could swim and Alex held onto her belt while she gathered 2-year-old Anthony in her arms as they exited through the driver's window of the sedan. Turley told investigators that Aaron didn't make it to shore and that Alex lost his grip. She said that as she grasped for Alex, the toddler slipped from her arms. Turley made it to shore and ran a half mile to the nearest home to call 911.

The boys were later pronounced dead at a hospital. Conway Corp., the utility company manages Lake Brewer, has since put up barriers on the road Turley was on that led into the lake.

Hopkins said the deaths have devastated the family and called the charges against Turley "outrageous."

"They're saying that my daughter basically killed her kids," he said. If convicted, she faces up to six years in prison on each count.

"She's tore up like, you know, who wouldn't?," Hopkins said. "She's done lost everything anyway."