ALLENTOWN, Pa. | A Lehigh County judge has forbidden a Coopersburg woman from having any contact with the daughter she put in mortal danger during her suicide attempt last year.
Sara L. Rhoads pleaded guilty in December to a felony count of neglect of a care-dependent person. Coopersburg police found the 38-year-old and her 18-year-old daughter in a running car parked inside a closed one-vehicle garage last January.
On Thursday, Lehigh County Judge Anna-Kristie Marks sentenced Rhoads to 11½ to 23 months in Lehigh County Jail followed by five years probation. The judge prohibited Rhoads from using drugs and alcohol and ordered her to continue drug and alcohol counseling and mental health treatment.
Marks ordered that Rhoads is to have no direct or indirect contact with her daughter unless approved by the court.
As part of a negotiated plea, the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office withdrew any additional charges and agreed that Rhoads could serve a county prison term. The length of her sentence was ultimately up to the judge.
Marks said she sentenced Rhoads in the aggravated range, in part, because she has repeatedly failed to take responsibility for her actions.
The judge said Rhoads’ refusal to take full responsibility greatly concerned her because it will hinder Rhoads’ ability to get the help she needs. Marks said she was also concerned Rhoads won’t follow the conditions the court has set for after her release, noting she was terminated from a treatment program following her arrest.
Rhoads’ 18-year-old daughter suffers from cerebral palsy and autism and has a limited ability to communicate. The judge described the victim’s physical and mental state at the hospital after police found her and Rhoads. The one person she most trusted tragically failed her, Marks said.
“I can’t imagine the fear in her as you tried to kill her,” the judge said.
First Assistant District Attorney Steven Luksa said his biggest concern was to assure that Rhoads had no contact with her daughter. The victim is in her grandmother’s care and has made “great strides” in terms of her health and education, he said.
When Rhoads has tried to contact her daughter, she’s experienced great setbacks, Luksa told the judge. The victim’s grandmother is pleading with the court that a protection-from-abuse order remain in place, he said.
Luksa called the case “sad on so many levels.” One can feel for Rhoads because she had gotten to a place in which she wanted to take her own life and that of her special needs daughter, he said.
And while her daughter has gotten the services she needs, Rhoads continues to make bad decisions and remains in “complete denial” about her responsibility, Luksa said.
Defense attorney John Baurkot called his client a “fractured and damaged person,” who never seemed to be in a stable place in her life. Raising her daughter was a difficult job that Rhoads was not equipped to handle, he said.
It’s going to take a concerted effort on Rhoads’ part to become a better person, and, if no contact with her mother is what’s best for the victim, then that’s what needs to happen, Baurkot said.
Rhoads tearfully told the judge that she’s had time to think about the things she’s done, the mistakes she’s made and the people she’s hurt. She told the court that she believes she became so overwhelmed with all her responsibilities and had never been reliant on herself.
“I was either with my mom or my husband for 15 years,” Rhoads said. “This was the first time I had to stand on my own two feet, and I failed.”
Rhoads told the judge that didn’t know what else to say except that she was sorry to everyone.