Seventh drunken driving conviction sends man to prison

Christopher Baumchen, left, listens during his sentencing hearing Friday in 35th Circuit Court in Corunna.

CORUNNA — A Byron man was sentenced to prison Friday for his seventh drunken driving conviction by 35th Circuit Court Judge Matthew Stewart.

Christopher Baumchen, 49, received a sentence of two to five years in prison, and was ordered to pay court costs and fines. Baumchen was given credit for 23 days served.

Stewart told Baumchen he’d spent a lot of time reviewing the defendant’s file.

“This will be OWI No. 7. I can’t forget that there’s still an outstanding warrant in Indiana that has not been taken care of. It’s been a number of years. They won’t come and get you. You haven’t addressed that… Your attorney has done a remarkable job for you. He’s gone above and beyond the call of duty. Mr. (Robert) Ashley cares very much for your future. I want you to know that. I want you to thank him before he leaves today… You’ve attended AA and other programs over the years. But here we are for sentencing on your seventh felony and you have 13 misdemeanors.

“I can’t ignore that,” Stewart said. “But I suspect that’s your cycle. I suspect you do very well for a while. That’s what I see… I cannot ignore your past.”

Baumchen apologized in a short statement.

“This never would have happened if I hadn’t been drinking,” he said. “This has really opened my eyes. I’ve never really gone to any rehab or counselors before… I feel way better today than I have in the past. I apologize to this court and to the community for my actions.”

Baumchen was originally charged with drunken driving, one count of felony larceny ($1,000-$20,000), and driving with a suspended license after stealing a trailer in May 2018. He was charged by prosecutors July 20.

Court records indicate Baumchen posted a $10,000 bond at that time, but did not appear for his arraignment Aug. 20, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.

Baumchen was arraigned Nov. 26, 2018, before 66th District Court Judge Terrance Dignan; he pleaded not guilty. He posted a $10,000 bond.

At a hearing May 16, Baumchen agreed to plead guilty to a reduced charge of operating while intoxicated-third offense. In return for Baumchen’s plea, prosecutors dropped the remainder of charges.

Friday, Ashley told the court Baumchen had been attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and had passed all his drug screens, except the first he took while on bond. Ashley asked the court to consider those factors before sentencing.

“We’re not in the old days,” Ashley said. “Courts have changed. The focus of the courts has changed… The attorney that trained me said, ‘We’re not social welfare agents — we’re attorneys.’ Well, that’s changed. This court, this judge has established in this county drug and alcohol courts, established mental health courts, Swift and Sure probation. We’ve done all that because there’s been a recognition in this society that the old ways with regard to alcoholism and drug addiction, mental health problems — it wasn’t working. Incarcerating individuals as a mere result wasn’t working. Recidivism was and is very high.”

The individual whose trailer Baumchen stole asked the court to consider alternative sentencing options, including community service.

“I stand before the court today pleading on behalf of Mr. Baumchen,” the victim said. “I’m a deacon at a church, so I have plenty of work for a small parish that needs to be done. If that would be the court’s decision, I would like to offer that up as a suggestion. I could also help Chris in some way, possibly spiritually.”

Prosecutor Deana Finnegan left sentencing to the discretion of the court.

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