NEW BERN, CRAVEN COUNTY - A woman has pleaded guilty to felony death by motor vehicle, driving while impaired, and other charges in a wreck that killed her 6-year-old daughter.
Amber Brook Sandvig Garris, 25, pleaded guilty in New Bern Monday afternoon to felony death by motor vehicle, DWI, two counts of felony child abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of felony serious injury by motor vehicle, possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of a schedule II controlled substance.
Garris will serve between 12 to 17 years in prison and must pay $423,278.80 in restitution, said District Attorney Scott Thomas. The judge also recommended that Garris receive psychiatric or psychological assessments / treatments while in prison, and undergo intensive substance abuse treatment as well.
Once Garris is released from prison, she will serve five years of probation, Thomas said. If she violates that probation, she may be sent back to prison for another 5-and-a-half years.
According to the Highway Patrol, Garris was driving while impaired when her car went left of the center line and crashed head-on into a Cadillac Escalade SUV on Brices Creek Road in Craven County on Feb. 22, 2013.
Garris' 6-year-old daughter, Alanna --a student at Brinson Elementary--died in the wreck. Garris' then 2-year-old son, Allen "Blaze" Garris, suffered a broken hip and leg.
A husband and wife in the Escalade --Michael and Julie Payne, of New Bern-- were also injured. Both of Julie's legs, as well her ribs and sternum, were broken. She had to undergo ten surgeries on her legs in the five months after the wreck.
Of the $423,278.80 in restitution that Garris must pay, $415016 will go toward paying for the Paynes' medical bills.
Troopers said Garris had pinpoint pupils, glazed eyes and slurred speech after the wreck. Investigators said they found a hypodermic needle in her underwear and three more needles in the console of her car. One of the syringes had .3 grams of oxycodone, said investigators.
Investigators said they also found a burnt spoon in the console, as well as an IOU notice for drugs.
A witness driving behind Garris said he saw her throwing things out of her car window.
A blood sample showed that Garris had in her system both clonazepam and oxycodone, for which she had no valid prescription, investigators said.
But in court Monday, Garris' lawyer said she got into opiates because of her husband, Alan. According to the lawyer, Garris was diagnosed with mood disorder and anxiety, and was prescribed drugs after high school. But she got into drugs more because of her husband, the lawyer said.
Garris also pleaded guilty to DWI and misdemeanor child abuse for a Jan. 11, 2012 wreck in which her son --who was 1 year old at the time-- was in the car. Garris crashed into a barrier where the road splits, but her son suffered just an abrasion mark from the seat belt during that wreck. Investigators said Garris' blood had opiates at the time of that crash.
Finally, Garris pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia after her brother found her in possession of a drug kit containing syringes, a spoon, elastic bands and cotton swabs in January 2013.