Sarah Esterline said Friday she had been given a second chance and was ready for the next step in her life, even if it's behind bars.
Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull ordered Esterline to serve seven years of a 12-year sentence in prison for driving drunk and causing a head-on crash, badly injuring her three children, on Oct. 31, 2016.
Five years of the sentence is suspended, and Esterline's driver's license will be suspended during a three-year probation.
“No matter what's next, I will succeed,” she told the judge near the end of a 31/2-hour sentencing hearing.
Esterline, 35, pleaded guilty in November to 12 felony counts – three counts of neglect of a dependent causing serious bodily injury, three counts of operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing serious injury, three counts of criminal recklessness and three counts of causing serious injury while operating a vehicle with marijuana in her blood.
She was driving on Hatfield Road near Pleasant Village Road about 8 p.m. Halloween night when she crossed the center line and crashed into an oncoming car. She told police she lost control of her car while trying to tend to a child in the back seat.
A Breathalyzer test about an hour later showed Esterline had a blood alcohol level of 0.159 percent, nearly twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent. Police found an open Budweiser in Esterline's red 1998 Volkswagen Jetta and a Bud Light on the floor of the back seat.
She told police she had a shot of whiskey at 3 p.m. and three 12-ounce beers while trick-or-treating with her children.
They were transported to a hospital, two of them in critical condition, after the crash.
Aidan Esterline, then 11, suffered a C1 vertebra fracture and brain and lung bruising. Grant Esterline, then 10, suffered a skull fracture and bruising on the brain.
Hailey Esterline, then 3, sitting in the left rear seat, had a bruised lung and dental trauma.
Esterline said Friday she hadn't seen her children since the crash. Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Adam Mildred said the children's conditions have improved, but they have had to endure a long road to recovery.
“I want to raise them so bad,” Esterline said. “They need me.”
Esterline's mother, two of her sisters and two women she met through Alcoholics Anonymous all testified she has changed dramatically since the crash. She has accepted responsibility for her actions and has stopped drinking and using drugs, they said.
“I didn't realize how sick I was at that time,” Esterline said. “I didn't think I was drunk. I didn't feel like I was an alcoholic.”
Esterline's lawyer, Michelle Kraus, said her client “was an ideal person for us to take a chance on with probation.”
But Mildred reminded the judge of what Esterline did to her children and the people in the vehicle Esterline's car collided with.
Firefighter Keith Egly recalled one of the children wasn't breathing but had a pulse when he arrived at the crash scene.
Margalida Morales and her daughter Katheryne both testified they haven't been the same since Esterline's car crossed the center line and hit their vehicle.
Katheryne Morales said she's paranoid when she gets behind the wheel.
“You clearly have made horrible decisions up to this time,” the judge told Esterline. But the judge also said Esterline had accepted responsibility, expressed remorse and attempted to rehabilitate herself. She had no criminal record.
“It's tragic,” Mildred said after the sentencing hearing, “but we're thankful the children are improving.”