PITTSFIELD -- A 62-year-old Ashley Falls woman convicted of drunken driving late last month was sentenced on Monday to 2 1/2 years in jail after a Central Berkshire District Court judge determined the incident was her sixth conviction for operating under the influence of alcohol.
Sheffield Police say Betsey Hallihan crashed her car in the yard of a home on Clayton Road in Ashley Falls on the night of March 18 during a snowstorm and was determined to be driving drunk. A jury convicted Hallihan on Aug. 28 following a short trial in Central Berkshire District Court.
On Monday, Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Daniel Hespeler presented evidence showing that Hallihan had five prior drunken driving convictions going back to 2004. The first was in Great Barrington, and was followed by two in New York and two in Connecticut.
Hespeler said the state of Connecticut has issued a warrant for Hallihan on yet another drunken driving charge. She has also been charged with violating her probation in New York state, he said.
The prosecutor asked that Hallihan receive a 2 1/2 year sentence, which under state law is the minimum mandatory sentence for a fifth offense drunken driving conviction. Although this is Hallihan's sixth offense, the charge is still considered to be a fifth offense under state law. However, under the statute, defendants can be charged with a fifth offense multiple times.
Hallihan's attorney, Robert D. Sullivan Jr., called it "a tragic case," telling the court his client holds a doctorate degree and was a microbiology professor at Bronx Community College in New York before retiring last year. Hallihan was active in the community in the Berkshires as well, he said.
The woman "suffers from a debilitating seizure disorder" that may be related to a traumatic brain injury she received several years ago, according to Sullivan. At trial, Sullivan argued it was the disorder, not Hallihan's alcohol consumption, that had caused both the crash and her behavior after the accident.
The attorney acknowledged that his client had a problem with alcohol and asked that the judge allow Hallihan to attend the Western Massachusetts Correctional Alcohol Center in Springfield while she is incarcerated.
District Court Judge Paul M. Vrabel ordered Hallihan to spend 2 1/2 years in jail. She received credit for the nearly six months she has been held in jail awaiting the outcome of her case.
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