BELFAST – The woman who was driving drunk when she struck and killed 16-year-old Ethan Barton in Poland is again behind bars for drinking and driving, this time in Belfast.

In 1998, Gale Chapman of Poland struck Barton, who was riding his bike on the Empire Road, and kept on driving. She told police she thought she hit a deer. In 1999, she was sentenced to 18 months for leaving the scene of an accident and drunken driving.

After getting out of prison, Chapman changed her name to Shannon Ross and moved to Belfast.

Ross, 44, is now in the Waldo County Jail serving a six-month sentence for her second operating under the influence. Ross declined to be interviewed or offer any statement, said Waldo County Jail Administrator Ray Porter.

Androscoggin County District Attorney Norman R. Croteau said it’s “horrific” that someone who killed a person from drinking and driving would continue to drive drunk.

The man who prosecuted Ross on the Belfast OUI charge portrayed her as an alcoholic with a dangerously high tolerance for liquor. As he gathered facts on the arrest, “I got chills in my spine,” said Waldo County Assistant District Attorney Eric Walker. “Every OUI is serious, but this is an amazing case.”

On March 2 Belfast Police Officer Michael McFadden stopped Ross for driving erratically. The officer noticed Ross was impaired. He asked if she had been drinking. “She said ‘no,’ she was going to work,” Walker said. Police asked her to step out of the car and gave her a sobriety test. She failed.

She was arrested and police searched her vehicle. They found a water bottle half-full of what looked like water. It was vodka or another kind of clear liquor, Walker said.

Tests showed her blood-alcohol level was .31, nearly four times the .08 legal limit. For an average 140-pound women that level would be reached after having eight to nine drinks in one hour. Walker said that indicated to him that she was an alcoholic, saying most people would be dead or in a coma if they drank that much.

In addition to OUI, Ross was charged with operating with a suspended license. It was still suspended from her conviction in the Poland death because Ross never took the Driver Education and Evaluation Program, which she needed to get her license back, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

In his case against Ross, Walker said he asked the court for a much more serious sentence because of her past, which he found out included not only Ethan Barton’s death and the high blood-alcohol level in the Belfast OUI charge, but also another alcohol-related incident.

According to Walker, Belfast police responded last September to a complaint of a drunk en worker at Jiffy Lube. Walker, in his sentencing request, told the judge the officer found Ross drunk on the job. Officer McFadden found her water bottle at the work site filled with clear, hard alcohol, Walker said.

No arrest was made because it’s not illegal to be drunk at work, Walker said. However, knowledge of the incident helped bolster his argument for a longer sentence for Ross, he said.

“The only reason we knew is because the same officer who handled that call arrested her in March,” Walker said. “It was a lucky thing, because we probably wouldn’t have known about it,” he said.

Ross pled guilty in May, and was sentenced to 364 days in jail with all but six months suspended. Normally a second OUI fetches seven days. Walker attributes the sentence to the gravity of Ross’ history.

“We hoped to give the public as much protection as we possibly could,” Walker said. Once out of jail, Ross will have a year’s probation and must undergo alcohol and drug treatment.

Chronic offenders are frustrating, said Walker. Whether Ross drinks and drives again when she gets out of jail depends on whether she addresses her alcoholism, he said. “There’s only so much we can do. We can only lock them up for so long.”

Suzanne Barton, the mother of Ethan, said last week she was surprised and disappointed that the woman responsible for her son’s death had again been drinking and driving.

“To find out she’s done this again, risking the same kind of outcome, it’s intense,” said Barton.” Her behavior means Ross is either willing to risk killing another “or she doesn’t care,” she said

Barton said she never met Ross, but had imagined that after Ethan’s death the woman would not drink and drive again. “Now I feel foolish to have been so idealistic to think she would turn over a new leaf. I’m disappointed.”

As for the judicial system, Barton said it is shocking to learn that a drunken driver can kill someone and then get an operator’s license back in a few years. “They should lose their license for life,” she said.

Ross’ license was taken away for 18 months, six of which will be while she’s in jail. She’ll be eligible to get her license back in November 2006.


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