URBANA — A Rantoul woman who admitted driving while drunk, resulting in a collision with a train that injured her and her son, has been sentenced to 30 months of probation and 180 days in jail.
However, Ashley Davis, 30, will have to serve only 30 days on electronic home detention starting next week, and the rest of the jail sentence will be held in remission while she continues in treatment and counseling for the issues underlying the drinking that led to her conviction.
Judge Adam Dill said he will decide in September if Davis will have to serve the balance of her jail sentence for aggravated DUI.
In a 90-minute hearing Friday — the fourth time for Davis to be in court to be sentenced — Dill was still asking lawyers and even Davis what they believed happened on May 19, 2018, and why.
The facts presented at Davis’ guilty plea in late January were that she was driving on a dimly lit county road — 800 E near 650 N — in Tolono Township about 11:30 p.m. that Saturday, having left a party after drinking. Her 1-year-old son was in a car seat in the back.
Davis apparently crossed railroad tracks, inadvertently left the road and got stuck on or near the tracks when she tried to turn around.
After being stuck for what Davis said was about 45 minutes, her vehicle was hit by an eastbound train and pushed about a mile before flipping over several times and landing in a field. Between getting stuck and being hit she was calling the friends she had just left to try to help her, not realizing where she was. A friend called 911.
Former Tolono police Officer Charles Frost testified he had been looking for the vehicle when he heard a radio dispatch of a car being hit by a train between county roads 900 and 1000 E.
Frost said he first located the train conductor, who believed he had hit an unoccupied vehicle. Later, Frost found the heavily damaged Chevrolet Equinox on its passenger side, heard a screaming baby and saw a bloodied Davis on the floorboard unresponsive.
Seeing the baby hanging upside down from his car seat, Davis used a tool to punch out the window to rescue the baby, who had sustained a broken collarbone and cuts to his face.
Dill had continued Davis’ earlier sentencing hearing so that both Assistant State’s Attorney Dan Reynolds and Davis’ attorney, Assistant Public Defender Brittany McKnight, could gather additional evidence about the mechanics of the collision and to try to shed light on Davis’ mental state, given that she was suffering from post-partum depression.
The judge expressed concern that she may have been suicidal given the suggestion that the car was facing the oncoming train, but Davis told him Friday she was not and that she had no intention of harming herself or her son.
McKnight had Patricia Ray, a substance-abuse counselor who’s been working with Davis since mid-May, testify Friday that Davis suffered from anxiety, depression and PTSD but has been “working very hard to follow my recommendations.” Ray said Davis, who had no prior record, was at “minimal risk to reoffend.”
Ray said she thought Davis was merely “lost” and “an inexperienced driver” on the night of the collision. She described Davis as a “devout Christian” who was very concerned about her family.
Davis testified in her own behalf that after her son’s birth, she was quite anxious and was taking medication for post-partum depression.
She said she was never told that she couldn’t drink with the medication she was on and maintained that alcohol was not a problem for her. She said she last drank in December.
Dill asked Davis directly about her anxiety, how much she thought she drank that night, and what happened in the vehicle.
She explained that she got off the road and was stuck in gravel away from the tracks. She denied that she had told Deputy J.P. Reifsteck she got stuck on the tracks or that she had passed out from being tired from work after calling her friends for help.
“I saw the train speeding toward me. I jumped in the back to shield my child,” she said, adding she didn’t know how much alcohol she had consumed but maintained she was “fine” to drive.
Dill pressed Davis, whose blood alcohol concentration hours after the collision was measured at 0.169, why she didn’t just get her son and get out of her vehicle when it became stuck.
“I was freaking out. My baby was asleep. I was trying to think of ways to get out of the situation,” said Davis, adding she had never been in trouble before.
Reynolds argued for a three-year prison term for Davis, the number he agreed to when she pleaded guilty, saying it was “luck” that she and her son weren’t killed.
McKnight argued for probation, saying Davis is employed, close to her family, active in her church and has learned much from her experience.
“The accident was unusual. It’s not who she is. Since the accident, she has struggled to make a better life for herself,” she said.
Raising her voice, Davis said she feels bad about the accident and said being in prison wouldn’t help her son. She lamented the friends and support she has lost since it happened and reminded the judge she had no prior record and is getting help.
Dill called Davis’ case “complicated” and said the educated working mother apparently fell into a “relationship with alcohol” after the birth of her child that sparked her anxiety. While he still didn’t accept her explanation of what happened that night, Dill called Davis “tremendously driven” and said that probation and home confinement were appropriate punishment.