A man accused of handing his estranged wife liquor shortly before she drove the family Suburban into a retaining wall, seriously injuring two of their four children who were in the back seat, pleaded guilty to one count of reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor, in Juneau Superior Court on Friday.
Travis Nashoanak, 24, originally was charged with four counts of reckless endangerment and one count of drunken driving, all misdemeanors. Though Nashoanak was not driving the vehicle during the accident, he was accused of aiding and abetting Annabelle Nashoanak's drunken driving on Dec. 22.
Annabelle Nashoanak, 25, was arrested the night of the accident. She has since pleaded guilty to a felony assault charge and drunken driving, a misdemeanor, and is awaiting sentencing at an Anchorage alcohol treatment facility for pregnant women.
The children injured in the crash, a boy, 8, with colon injuries and a girl, 6, with severe facial lacerations, were medevaced to Seattle for treatment and later released from a hospital. They are in foster care.
Travis Nashoanak was arrested a month after the accident, after a Juneau grand jury found enough evidence to support the charges.
As part of a plea agreement between defense attorney Philip Pallenberg and District Attorney Rick Svobodny, Travis Nashoanak pleaded guilty to one count of reckless endangerment and one count of violating probation, a misdemeanor stemming from a 1998 conviction for failure to appear in court.
Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins sentenced Nashoanak on Friday to 25 days in prison for the probation violation and six months with four months suspended for reckless endangerment. The drunken-driving charge was dropped as part of the plea agreement.
Collins also placed Nashoanak on probation for two years and ordered him to not consume alcohol and enter a 90-day inpatient alcohol treatment program.
According to attorneys' testimony at the Friday hearing, Nashoanak has been drinking since he was 8, has a severe drinking problem, and has been in treatment for it several times before. He has been enrolled in an outpatient alcohol treatment program at the Juneau Recovery Hospital since his arrest. According to his self-evaluation form regarding his progress at JRH, which is in court records, he has not had a drink in that time.
Though Svobodny recommended the sentence to Collins, he admitted that many may think it lenient given the nature of the charges.
"People may think because there are children involved the sentence ought to be tougher," said Svobodny after the Friday hearing. Prosecutors "have all of this criteria to follow in determining what is a fair and appropriate sentence recommendation. Not one of those criteria says, 'If there is a crime and there are children involved the punishment should be tougher.' I felt like this was the best sentence given the criteria."
However, Pallenberg said at the hearing that his client denied handing the bottle to Annabelle Nashoanak and didn't know that she was drunk because he too was intoxicated to notice.
According to court records, Annabelle Nashoanak's blood alcohol level was 0.32 percent. The level that a driver is legally drunk is 0.08 percent.
Pallenberg said his client accepts responsibility for allowing his children to get in the vehicle with their mother after she had been drinking, but that ultimately the onus lies with Annabelle Nashoanak as the driver.
"If parents drive their children into a bad neighborhood at night, there's a robbery, and the robber shoots children, it's still the robber that bears the ultimate responsibility for the crime," said Pallenberg after the hearing Friday. "Every parent has the responsibility of protecting their children. I'm not saying he is without blame - he was here today to accept responsibility - but less responsibility than the person who was driving the car and had the accident."
Annabelle Nashoanak is expecting her sixth child this fall. The Nashoanak children, ages 8, 6, 4, and 2, are in foster care. A 6-month-old daughter died in October 2001.
Melanie Plenda can be reached at email@example.com.
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