A Cleveland woman broke down in tears in Portage County Common Pleas Court Monday as she pleaded guilty to a felony for leading Streetsboro police officers on a high-speed, wrong-way pursuit on Interstate 480 in October 2012.
Ashley E. Stewart, 24, pleaded guilty to one count of failure to comply with the order or signal of a police officer, a third-degree felony, in Judge Laurie Pittman's courtroom. She had been in court for a hearing on a motion by her attorney to void her Oct. 13, 2012, arrest, but entered the guilty plea instead.
Standing next to attorney Stephen McGowan, who confirmed for the judge he was withdrawing the motion to suppress her arrest and evidence obtained from that arrest, Stewart told Pittman she accepted responsibility and the consequences of her actions. Pittman accepted the guilty plea, and ordered a pre-sentence investigation.
Third-degree felonies do not carry a presumption of prison time, so Stewart faces a minimum of probation or between one and three years in prison, along with a possible driver's license suspension of two years to life. By agreement of both parties, McGowan and the Portage County Prosecutor's Office will be allowed to argue Stewart's sentencing before Pittman, the judge ruled.
The prosecutor's office dismissed two misdemeanor charges of operating a vehicle under the influence and refusal to submit to chemical tests, Assistant Prosecutor Eugene Muldowney said.
Shortly before 3 a.m. on Oct. 13, Streetsboro police, Hudson police and a Summit County sheriff's deputy chased Stewart's black 2007 Lincoln into oncoming traffic on I-480 after receiving a report of a wrong-way driver. Stewart narrowly avoided several head-on collisions and failed to stop or turn around despite being chased at speeds of up to 80 mph. Officers boxed in Stewart's car on S.R. 14 near Mondial Parkway and she was removed from the car and arrested, according to Streetsboro police.
Dashboard cameras in the officers' cruisers captured much of the chase on video.
Stewart's previous attorney, Joseph Lanter, had argued in court filings that Streetsboro officers failed to properly administer sobriety tests to Stewart following her arrest, and "lacked reasonable suspicion" to detain her for drunken driving, thereby violating her constitutional rights. McGowan replaced him as counsel prior to her plea.
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