ST. JOSEPH — A Coloma woman who drove drunk, causing a crash that claimed the life of a woman in another vehicle, will have to wait awhile longer to find out how many years she will spend in prison.

Amber Garton, 33, was to have been sentenced in Berrien County Trial Court Monday after pleading no contest in April to operating while intoxicated causing death, a felony punishable by up to 15 years. 

Berrien Assistant Prosecutor Trevor Maveal and Garton’s lawyer, Kevin Banyon, had reached a plea deal in which the minimum sentence could not exceed the half-way point of the guideline range for Garton of 28-57 months. So her minimumsentence would not have exceeded 43 months.

But the lawyers told Berrien County Trial Court Judge Gary Bruce Monday at what would have been Garton’s sentencing hearing that they had learned late last week that Garton had a prior drunken driving conviction in another county that had not shown up when they pulled her record earlier.

The prior conviction was discovered by a Michigan Department of Corrections worker who was completing a pre-sentence investigation on Garton. Her sentencing guideline range now will be 43 to 86 months, so the half-way point minimum would be significantly higher than first thought.

Technically, lawyers believe Garton could legally try to withdraw her no contest plea. Judge Bruce set a new sentencing date of July 29. Any motions, including a motion to withdraw her plea, would have to be filed before that date. Bruce pointed out that Garton, herself, would have known about the prior conviction even though the lawyers did not.

According to previous testimony, Garton was traveling 111 mph on I-94 in Benton Township when her car slammed into the back of a van carrying five people last September, including Erum Nazir, 33, from Oakville, Ontario, Canada, who died.

A police officer testified that based on marks in the road, and lack thereof, the van likely went airborne before spinning out if control and flipping over.

According to testimony, Garton failed a field sobriety test and blew a 0.18 on a preliminary breath test at the scene, more than twice the legal limit for alcohol while driving. 

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