Drunk Mom bypasses ignition-lock by having 12 year old son blow into it for her.

So by now you’ve heard about how in some States if you’re convicted ‘x’ number of times of driving under the influence the authorities can install a device in your car that requires you to pass a breathalyzer test before you can start your car, right? Seems like the perfect solution to the problem of drunk driving, right? Can’t start the car if you’re drunk, can’t drive if you can’t start the car. Makes perfect sense to a lot of people and as a result laws allowing these devices to be installed in habitual offender’s cars are gaining popularity.

One little oversight folks may not have considered, though: What’s stopping a drunk from convincing someone else to blow into the ignition-lock for them so they can start the car? Sure, no responsible sober adult would do such a thing, but not all adults are responsible. Besides that, what if they have kids?

Wausau – Drunken mother drove with 5 kids

Sandra Donat had been arrested three times already for drunken driving, so she knew that she would need someone sober to blow into the ignition-lock device on her van before it would start.

She chose her 12-year-old son.

Then Donat piled him and four of her other children – all younger than 10 years old at the time – into the vehicle at 2:30 a.m. on Feb. 20, 2003, and took off for Taco Bell with a beer in hand.

Police arrested her after the van drifted out of its lane, and found that she had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.22, more than twice the state’s legal limit at the time.

Donat said she had left a friend’s house in Wausau, but police never determined where she was coming from. The officer who followed the van into the restaurant’s parking lot on Grand Avenue in Schofield could see that at least one of the children was not wearing a seat belt.

“The nature of this crime is grotesque,” Assistant District Attorney Kurt Klomberg said while arguing for a prison sentence at a hearing on Thursday in Marathon County court. “Those lives could have ended because their mother, the person they trusted the most, had the munchies.”
Reserve Judge Conrad Richards agreed. He sentenced Donat, 38, of Birnamwood to the maximum sentence of four and a half years in prison, along with another year and a half of extended supervision for three counts of fourth-offense driving while intoxicated – prosecutors can add additional charges of drunken driving for each child who is in the vehicle.

Aside from being a perfect example of a complete dumbass, Sandra Donat also demonstrates one of the flaws in trying to solve a social problem with a technical solution. Driving drunk is a symptom of a larger problem (alcoholism). Treating only one symptom doesn’t solve the larger problem this woman is dealing with even if it were possible for that treatment to be 100% effective.

Everyone quoted in the news story is carrying on about how she put her children’s lives at risk by bypassing the lock and driving under the influence with her kids in the car, but no one seems at all concerned about the fact that this woman is apparently getting drunk on a regular enough basis that she may be putting her kids at risk regardless of whether she’s able to drive a car. Making her unable to drive her car when drunk only protects the rest of us from this woman, but it does nothing to make her kids all that much safer. A drunk parent, particularly a single parent such as Sandra, generally are not in any shape to feed, clothe or bathe their children properly. Granted, there are always different frequencies in how often a particular alcoholic may go on a binge, but the fact remains that a drunk parent puts their children at risk during those periods simply by not being sober. The more frequent the binging, the more risk for the kids.

By putting a band-aid on the problem with something like an ignition-lock you’re not really helping these people in any way. In fact, you may be enabling them to make the problem worse by sending the wrong message: It’s OK to get drunk as long as you don’t drive. It’s the sort of quick-fix and seemingly sensible solution that politicians love because it makes everyone happy. The voters who see their leaders getting “tough on drunks,” the makers of the devices who know there’s plenty of drunks out there for the Police to buy devices for, the drunks ‘cause they think this gives them license to binge, and the politicians themselves ‘cause it’ll get them more votes.

Ultimately the real problem, the alcoholism, is left untreated and will continue to impact the family as a whole putting them all at risk. If these people were truly concerned about the kids in this story they’d be outraged over the fact that they tried to quick-fix the symptom instead of dealing with the problem properly in the first place.

39 thoughts on “Drunk Mom bypasses ignition-lock by having 12 year old son blow into it for her.

  1. Unfortunately the most prominent “cure” for alchoholism in the US (and Canada) is “The 12 Steps”. These require that the alchoholic turn to god for a cure.

    I’m sure glad I’m not an alcoholic (I rarely drink at all), because I don’t think I could turn to fairy tales as part of the cure. I’m curious if athiest alcoholics do have fewer avenues for treatment.

    I understand in England that alcohol management is a very popular (and somewhat more successful that 12-steps) program. It works a lot like Weightwatchers where you earn points to have drinks and you are taught to stay in control.


  2. Yeah, Les, but in this case I don’t know what a better alternative would be that didn’t start infringing on people’s rights.  You can legislate their behavior once they start doing something to hurt someone else, but I don’t think you can put legal processes in place to take away someone’s kids just because they’re ill.  You can’t make it illegal to be drunk in your home if you have kids present, for example.  And you can’t force treatment on someone simply for being an alcoholic—again, unless they actually cause bodily harm to someone else.  After the harm has been done, it’s almost irrelevant WHY the person did it.  You can start to try to address the underlying cause a bit in the sentencing (forced drug rehab, anger management classes, etc.), but I personally would get nervous if we started enacting more laws that said as soon as you started drinking more than such-and-so a day, you were a danger to your kids and should automatically lose custody of them, or be forced into treatment.

    Hence, the mechanical solution:  try to prevent a specific dangerous behavior.  Which as we all know can be circumvented by anyone determined enough.  It’s a sad state of affairs.  But at some point along the spectrum, prevention, which may sound like the wiser course, becomes infringement.

  3. Of course you can make it illegal to be drunk in your home if you have kids present. How you would enforce it is a different question…

  4. Offhand, I think that being drunk in your house when your child gets hurt, if you’re the only adult there, can be considered neglect or child endangerment.  I could be wrong, though.

  5. GeekMom, you said just the right thing to give me a reason to speak on this matter. You mentioned people’s rights. As a person, I think that people have way too many rights. People uses these so called rights to simply keep themselves from getting caught while doing something they aren’t supposed to be doing. If you’re keeping five children, and you’re drunk….you have NO fucking rights! When you do something like that, you forfeit your rights as far as I’m concerned.
    I have no sympathy for so filthy old drunk who keeps children in an environment like that. There’s no self respect there.
    This is one of the reasons why I don’t agree with the legal system. If she had got into an accident, the police and paramedics get to the scene where she is drunk, but alive, and all those children are dead…she’d be entitled to a “fair trial.” Are you fucking kidding me? You drove drunk, and killed your children…there’s no ifs ands or buts about it. Although if she could afford a good enough lawyer, she could walk away. It’s shit. People like that should be hung, or better yet…how about a fucking crucifixion!

  6. Calvin, your moral condemnation of drunkenness is quite clear here.  Would you be as condemning of someone who, say, was clinically depressed?  Sure, that person could neglect his or her children in the same way.  Are you saying someone who is ill has “no fucking rights”?  How about someone who is deathly ill from the flu but who is trying to take care of the kids despite being dosed up on medication?  Are you going to take away their “fucking rights” just in case they might do something dangerous?  How many more “moral failings” do you have on your list that would justify the government checking up on you in your house even BEFORE they potentially caused any problems?

    How about a parent sitting at home late of an evening after the kids are in bed who has a glass of wine?  (One glass of wine is enough to put ME away.)  Does the government get to check up on me to see if I’m a “filthy drunk” yet?  How about two glasses of wine?  How about once a week?  Twice a week?  Am I filthy yet?  Did I just sign away my fucking rights in your book?

    You’re aptly named, Calvin, and it’s scary.

  7. Well if someone was deathly ill with the flu, I would imagine the children would be taken to a family member’s home to be taken care of in that case.

    As for the depression issue…I do not believe in depression. As a species us humans are getting weaker and weaker and we will eventually be so dependent on popping pills that we simply will not be able to survive on planet earth. Is it possible that things like depression and A.D.D were just recently discovered and did in fact exist for thousands of years. Or is it possible that people are simply made to believe that they are “suffering” from these things so that someone else can make a quick buck. A lot of people in society are spineless pussies who will pop a yellow, blue, and a green before every meal because someone who is supposedly educated in that field told them it was the answer to their problems. These are the same people you’ll find in say, a church, or reading a bible. People who aren’t content to just fucking live here, they need answers and fixes to make them comfortable in their own skin.

    Sorry, I may have gone a little off topic there, but these type of debates usually include sub-categories.

    Anyway, as for being a filthy drunk. A short definition would go something like…a person who drinks all day every day until they pass out and wake up only to get another drink. They usually don’t work or if they do, they do it poorly, and as the behavior continues they eventually lose their job, their license, their family. At least they should lose their family in a case like this woman. I’m not saying don’t give here a chance to right her wrong, kick the addiction and get her kids back. Although when you get your 12 year old to blow your ignition lock because you’re too drunk…what a gross miss-use of the second and third chance she was given.

    So no, drinking a glass of wine in the evening is not a criminal offence in my book. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m a huge supporter of drinking. It all comes back to drinking responsibly. You have kids, you’re the care giver…don’t get falling down drunk if you’re the only adult there. If you knew where I was from you would know that when I was a child adults drank around me, and now that I’m older I drink around the children, but I don’t fall down and urinate on the carpet or anything, and neither did the adults of my childhood. I was always looked after, and my safety was never called into question because someone had one too many beers, and I would never put my children around here in danger because I wanted to have another drink.

    My only moral failing is that I don’t have sympathy for the devil; and if you call that a moral failing, you’re simply giving giving sympathy to people who do not deserve it.

  8. Until alcolhol ceases to be a socially accepted drug, things like that will happen. I guess the US could extend the war on drugs to alcohol, but then the non-drinkers would need to be resettled into preserves and the rest of the nation be declared an open prison.

  9. I’ve been meaning to follow up here to make my thoughts a bit more clear, but am short on time at the moment so if this is a little fuzzy let me know:

    I’m not suggesting that alcohol become a restricted drug like pot or cocaine nor am I suggesting that we break up the family or arrest anyone for having a glass of wine at home, but clearly trying to solve the problem by putting an ignition lock on the vehicle isn’t really helping the situation.

    Frac pretty much nailed what I’m aiming at: Some form of therapy. The way I look at it is simple enough; if the woman has violated the law enough times to mandate putting an ignition-lock in her car then there’s no reason she can’t be mandated to go to therapy. Jail time doesn’t help her figure out why she drinks so damned much. Ignition locks can be bypassed. Therapy would address the root problem and not just the symptom. I share Frac’s concern over the 12 Step Program, but that’s not the only option available out there.

    Education and therapy are the two best ways to deal with a social problem like alcoholism, but are often the least considered solution.

  10. No GM, THIS is me. And I’m going out in an odd spot on this one. Usually, I think that we are too quick to remove kids from parents. I think often the actual removal can and does do more harm than the reason the child is being removed. I am open to some exceptions, and chemical dependency makes my list.

    I think it’d be an impossible task to have a close in guide here. We can’t remove children from people who get intoxicated at home on occasion, and I’m not sure we should want to. Certainly, at some point that becomes neglect. But the reality of children’s homes (foster and group) is far worse.

    However, people that have proven their illness beyond a doubt, as this sterling example of parenthood has, leave little room for doubt about the fact that they will do it again. So, I have little problem with gross failures such as these having their right to parenthood interrupted.

    Before you start judging:
    1) I drink alcohol.
    2) I think intoxication via any substance (intentional loss of reason) is a sin, therefore, by my standards, wrong.
    3) I have kids.

    Certainly there can be medical reasons that would override number 2. In such cases, a person is responsible to turn the decision making process over to someone else. As in: If I’m going under anesthesia for a surgery, I make sure to find a responsible individual that will be legally responsible for my children while I’m under. Or, I

  11. Holy Testicle Tuesday, I think I just agreed with David.

    (Well, all except the “sin” part, of course.)

  12. Perhaps it’s time to bite the bullet and lift legal age drinking laws so in time drinking is not so glamorous. It would at least destroy the novelty and lead to less abuse overall. It could be surprising what effect that might have if it’s not a piece of forbidden fruit. Who doesn’t love the excitement and rush from rebellion sometimes? No, this is not the quick fix solution and billions of our other laws would probably be broken in the process too.

    In the meantime, addressing the issue for how things are right now….I agree with education and some therapy. However, not all therapy is effective therapy because with no product there is no business and no business means no job. No job means no money and no money means….you get the point. Decisions can become significantly easier for a healthcare worker……can’t they?

    If you keep on violating the law after therapy we have places for you! Islands that we blow up….I don’t want to pay for your prison term because you can’t keep it together. Bullshit! I know that’s tough but isn’t assimilation what we’re striving for with laws or did I misinterpret?

    Incidents like this are going to continue to happen. The government reaps huge $ benefits from alcohol and cry about mishaps associated with it. Stop making it then!  I’m a huge supporter of good times but it just can’t be all the time.

    By the way….I am an alcoholic but I keep it together and do it responsibly….can you imagine that?

  13. Interestingly enough, in Switzerland the taxes on alcohol are funneled in full into rehab programs. The more people drink, the more funds you have to curb or mitigate; the less people drink the less of a problem you have in the first place.

    Oh, and I agree with David, too. The last thing anybody wants is the government interfering with parenting unless there is neglect or abuse.

  14. “Put a Band-Aid on it”….a very apt metaphor.

    Say I break a window (maybe I was pissed off and vented in the wrong direction, or I Was just plain clumsy…or maybe I was stinking drunk?), and a piece of glass gets stuck in my arm, hits an artery, and sends forth a torrent of bright red blood. Is a Band-Aid going to fix it? Not hardly! In fact, it’s probably just going to push the glass in further, and do more damage, maybe sever a nerve or more arteries. So what am I going to do? I’m going to get my bleeding ass to the hospital, have the glass removed, and get that wound stitched up!

    This woman deserves to have her children removed, her driver’s license taken away, and spend some time doing hard labor, while she dries out and gets the mental help that she so obviously needs. Give her ONE chance to show that she can clean up her act, and demonstrate that she is a responsible parent, and then she gets the kids back, with the caveat that if she even gets so much as a public intoxication charge, she’s blown her chance. No more kids, no more driving, and some other suitably harsh punishment. And if, goodness forbid, she drives drunk and hurts or kills somebody after all that, she gets to be publicly executed by some appropriate means. Like, say, pushed out in front of a fast-moving school bus.

    You may disagree with the Bible, but they did get one thing right…“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

  15. Not a big Bible fan, but “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is a very good way to govern a society. Too bad that if someone pokes out your eye or pulls out your tooth, and you poke and/or pull back…you’re probably going to jail while you’re blind and toothless friend is most likely going to walk free.

    Elwedriddsche, do you think that if a single mother with 5 children is getting drunk every day, in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening that she would be able to provide the proper care for these children. I would put this in the category marked: neglect. I may also throw it into the abuse category simply because of the mental state these kids must be in when they have to live in a home like that. Just me though.

  16. My non-answer is that society needs to agree about what is and what is not ‘proper care’ and what remedies are appropriate if that level of care is not forthcoming. My good stepmother was a social worker and her life experience was that it all depends. Is this particular case,

    It would be more of a deterrent for others in the community to see her enter the jail each day and serve her time, Linehan said. It would also give Donat the best chance for rehabilitation, he said, and allow her to have limited visits with her children, who no longer live with her. Charges of child neglect are pending against her in Shawano County.

    sounds like a reasonable approach.

  17. hi
    We have a drink problem here in the Uk,suprise suprise.Binge drinking by young people,causes most concern.
    In the UK the minimum age for legal consumption is 18 but many 15 to 16 year olds can easily obtain alcohol.
    Some blame youth,some blame arcane licensing laws which date back partly to the 14 18 war,when in order to ensure that munitions workers returned from their lunchtime breaks,they closed the pubs.
    Fortunately we are still playing catch up with you guys so no-one is campaigning for a solution inspired by religion
    The solution has already been suggested,Therapy,
    I agree but lets turn the therapautic lens on the societies that produce people who want to get off their face all the time. 

  18. To calvin
    Have you never heard of brain chemistry,or wondered how a tiny bit of alcohol can change how you percieve the world.
    Knock the balance of the brain chemistry even slightly and you dont eat you dont sleep and you even stop thinking coherently.
    Sound familiar.

  19. Spacemonkey…I know that, but I don’t get what you’re telling me, or what you’re trying to say. Drinking and taking drugs fucks you up, it fucks up your brain, and that’s why we drink and do drugs. Just be more specific, I said a lot of things.

  20. This article that you wrote hit the mark… I am the step-mom to the 3 youngest of the children, and you will be happy to know that after a 5 year custody battle we finally won custody of the kids last September. The courts ignored her alcoholism problem because they didn’t want to split up the siblings. (She had 7 children)  We struggled, evan though my husband and I both have clean records and she has a long history of not only driving drunk but disorderly conducts, and giving alcohol to minors.
    Like your article said even when she was not driving drunk she did not take care of the children they would come to our house on weekends smelling of cat urine and wearing the same clothes we put on them the weekend prior, it was appalling.  We repeatedly called social services but nothing ever happened. She has however now been charged with 4 counts of child neglect because she left her other 4 children home alone for a week. 
    My husband attended the court hearing last week when Sandra was sentenced, She gave a poor woe is me speech about how she had a bad year and even her dog died.  She showed no remorse for what she had done or mention of how she could have killed the children or others. She blames her getting jail time on my husband,because he wrote a letter to the court asking for the maximum sentence, what kind of parents would we if we did not?

    Instead of lowering the Alcohol limit, like the state of Wisconsin just did in 2003, they need to give higher penalties to those who have been convicted.  The police keep catching them and the courts keep letting them back out.

    Thank you for writing the article.  The children are safe all living with their fathers. We did care but no one would listen.

  21. Step-mom, you and your husband are wonderful people.  We’re rootin’ for ya.  Keep fighting the good fight.

  22. I LOVE the way this site gets responses from the actual people discussed in posts. It allows us feedback from those involved and sometimes provides a sort of closure.

    It’s so much more real and immediate than most message boards and blogs I read.

    Les is da man and that’s all there is to it. His only shortcoming is that he’s straight, though I try not to let that alter my respect for him.

  23. Step-mom, I’m very relieved to hear that the kids are in a better situation now and you have my good wishes for you and your family.

    Brock, I appreciate the compliment and I’ll try to be a little less straight just for you. Does it help any to know that I paint my toe-nails? It’s a macho metal-flake blue color, but it still gets lots of odd stares when I walk around in my sandals.

    GeekMom, I don’t think the world is ready for me to be gay. For one thing my fashion sense is so bad that not even the Queer Eye guys could help me.

  24. Please keep in mind that the kids DO love and miss their mother very much,(even if she is a complete DUMBASS), and that we have to always respect that around them. The minds of children are so precious, and with the oldest being 17 and the youngest being 6 I’m sure they miss their mom terribly and will always love her, no matter what she did in the past. 
    But I will say….The children are much better off where they are and should have been better off years ago. This could of ended tragically but THANK GOD (or whoever ya need to thank) all is well.
    Sandra had shown us all too many times to be an irresponsible mother and DAMN THE COURTS OF SHAWANO COUNTY, (the crooked bastards that they are), for letting her keep the kids for as long as she did.
    Thank you Bill and Kim again for caring so much about the well being of the kids. They deserve the best and now they have it!
    (Aunt of the 3 youngest)

  25. Yeah, about that toenail painting thing! I’ve always thought you might be repressing a bit.

    If you think it might help, I could pray for you for help coming out. Keep in mind that since I’ve no idea who to pray to, I might end up having you made impotent or something.

    AuntyMia, you and Step-mom are cool. It’s great to know this situation has people like you two to counter balance the kids experiences.

  26. Another thing about the toenail-painting, Les - Don’t you ever have a not-so-bright day, when you look down at your feet and the first thing you think is “Damn, how did I manage to mash all ten of my toes?”

  27. Wow! Well, this thread really hit me on a lot of levels. I’m a PSYC student (late bloomer), & some were wondering earlier about the options available to Atheist alcoholics.

    Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT - see Aaron Beck, original theorist on the method) has proven to be the most affective therapy time & time again. When you look at not only levels of improvement, but also relapse rates, CBT is much more effective than AA, hypnosis, acupuncture, psychotherapy, medication, etc. It is also the most effective form of therapy for many other illnesses, such as depression (as was discussed earlier in the thread). I’m not going to teach PSYC 101 here, but the jest of CBT is introduction, use, & implementation of logic & reason in assessing one’s cognitive processes. Basically, it is designed to rid one of cognitive distortions. (Anyway, you can research more if you like.) So, there are alternatives to groups such as AA… & good alternatives at that!

    On the note of the children & parental rights, etc., it is wonderful that these kids were able to go to relatives, while I would have to agree that regardless of their mom’s actions, the children will still endlessly miss her & long for her.

    My husband & I are adopting a sibling group out of foster care. They are 8 & 9 & have been in care (in a different state) for 4 years. We’re also foster parents, & we run a donation center out of our home, where kids in care can get free clothing, toys, furniture, books, sporting equipment, etc. We’re obviously “entrenched” in the foster care/DCFS world, & thus have a bit of insight on the subject (although the learning is truly ENDLESS).

    I think that if it can be avoided (in some reasonable way), children should stay OUT of foster care. Whenever possible, they should stay with their biological families, as the blunt trauma & long term damage to attachment capabilities is horrific (at best). Plus, as discussed in other threads, these children are still at threat for further abuse, neglect, etc. in the foster care system.

    As I see it, one of the biggest faults in our foster care system is that too many people are fostering that HAVE A VOID (a. can

  28. Very well said and I think you pretty covered what I was trying to say originally myself. Thanks for sharing that with us.

  29. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association the leading causes of death in the year 2000 (the latest figures available) show alcohol consumption the third highest cause of death in the country at 85,000 deaths; 3.5%. Motor vehicle deaths make up 43,000 of those deaths. The economic cost of alcohol abuse is estimated to be $70.3 billion for the year 1985 (again the latest figures available).
    Obviously alcohol abuse is a major problem and when that abuse takes place behind the wheel of a 3000 pound vehicle the damage often involves innocent people.

    Breathalyzer car locks are a great idea not just because it would save lives and money but because it would force many abusers into treatment. It is estimated that about 10% of the population of the US are chronic alcoholics and many more are well on their way.  Those people often reject help for years causing untold problems for the social and health systems of the country. often times they can be nudged into treatment by the hassles associated with drinking - like the inability to drive.

    Have you ever noticed the cars in the parking lots for taverns and bars and wondered how those people get home? How many people have a drink after work or during a social event and then drive home? How many of you know an alcoholic that is in denial and driving? Think about these things and then think about this product

  30. It seems you didn’t read the original entry too closely. If you an bypass the system by having someone else blow into it for you then it’s hardly a deterrent.

  31. Why do Americans freak at alcohol? One Brit journalist recored that when he asked for a second glass of wine at a top NY restaurant he felt like everyone in the room was looking at him as if he was some sort of pisshead.

    This is not a rant saying this woman did nothing wrong. Don’t drink and drive is a given.  However it is possible to be over the limit to drive but still be able to funtion perfectly well a a human. A drink driver is not necessarily an alcoholic.

  32. Calvin, you are a disgrace to Canada. It seems more like you belong in some oppressive three-letter branch of our government. You’d fit right in.

  33. I still haven’t figured out what prevents the driver from just running a redundant +12V to the ignition system and bumping the starter.  Works pretty good when my cars don’t feel like starting the normal way.  Key unlocks the steering column and shifter, or just remove the lock cylinder altogether - nothing preventing anyone from operating the car.  :screwy:

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