A Vermont state lawmaker has admitted to driving drunk. Last month, the Williston Police Department arrested Sen. Debbie Ingram, D-Chittenden County, who’s also an ordained minister and the executive director of Vermont Interfaith Action.
Thursday morning, the first-term senator entered a guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence—her first offense.
In video recorded by a Williston officer’s cruiser camera, Ingram tells police she had been drinking vodka at home, and was running out to the grocery store when she crashed her Mercedes into a ditch while turning around.
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In the footage, you see the lawmaker misunderstand an officer’s directions about a roadside sobriety test—walking backward for part of the dexterity exam—and fail the officer’s checks.
A preliminary breath exam would read .195 percent, well over twice the legal limit. Later, a more formal breath test showed a blood alcohol content of .186 percent, according to a police report filed with the court.
At one point in the dash camera footage, a firefighter helps Ingram stay steady. Back at the police station, more department video shows the senator struggling to walk.
"I’d like to say I’m sorry for my behavior that night, and I’m very grateful no one was injured as a result," Sen. Ingram told Judge Alison Arms of the Vermont Superior Court, after entering her guilty plea.
Colleagues from the Vermont Statehouse and Vermont Interfaith Action were in the courtroom for support as Ingram entered the plea, including Sen. Phil Baruth, P/D-Chittenden County, and Rep. Selene Colburn, P-Burlington.
Under the terms of a plea agreement, Ingram agreed to three months on probation, a $300 fine and surcharges, attendance at a safe driving course, and treatment for alcoholism.
Ingram’s attorney, Ted Kenney, said after the hearing that his client is very much looking forward to continuing her work in the Vermont Legislature.
"She is very sorry for what she did—she accepts full responsibility and she’s not making any excuses for it," Kenney said of Ingram’s guilty plea to the DUI charge. "Hopefully, people will see this with the understanding and compassion that I think it deserves."
Kenney noted how rare it is for a defendant to enter a guilty plea at an arraignment, as Ingram did.
The defense lawyer suggested that could be seen as an indication of how much respect Ingram has for the laws of Vermont and for the state’s court system, and her desire to make amends for what she did.
"Within this bad conduct, she’s serving as a wonderful example of how to do things appropriately when you’ve done something wrong," Kenney said.
While Ingram declined to answer reporters’ questions Thursday, she did issue a statement last month.
In part of the statement, Sen. Ingram said, "I suffer from a disease for which I have been getting treatment through a 12-step program. I had a temporary setback…and will continue to seek treatment to ensure that something like this never happens again."