Sunset Hills police officer pleads guilty in drunk driving case

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by Jim Salter

The Associated Press; video by KMOV

Posted on December 6, 2010 at 9:42 PM

Updated Friday, Dec 10 at 12:18 AM

CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) -- A suburban St. Louis police officer pleaded guilty Thursday to a drunk-driving wreck that killed four young people originally from India.

Christine Miller, 42, spoke quietly and was matter-of-fact as she answered questions from St. Louis County Circuit Judge Michael Jamison and did not make a statement during a brief hearing.

Miller faces a wide range of punishment at sentencing scheduled for March 10, anything from probation to 67 years in prison -- 15 years maximum on each first-degree involuntary manslaughter charge and seven on a charge of second-degree assault. Assistant prosecutor Al Key said his office has made no recommendation, but he hopes the judge is not lenient.

"I'd like to see double-digit (years)," Key said.

Neither Miller nor her attorney, Scott Rosenblum, spoke after the hearing. No relatives of victims were in the courtroom.

Miller was a 12-year veteran of the Sunset Hills police department. She was off-duty and had been out drinking at O'Leary's Bar & Restaurant before the crash on Dougherty Ferry Road in southwest St. Louis County at 1:45 a.m. on March 21, 2009.

A receipt found with Miller showed she had purchased five Cosmopolitans, and Key said each drink consisted of two-and-a-half shots. Her blood-alcohol level at a hospital 41 minutes after the wreck was 0.229. Three hours after the wreck, a police check showed her blood-alcohol level at 0.169 -- still more than twice Missouri's legal limit of 0.08.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol said Miller's Mitsubishi was in the wrong lane when it struck a 1999 Honda. The driver of the Honda, Nitesh Adusumilli of suburban St. Louis, survived but was badly hurt.

But all four passengers in Adusumilli's car were killed instantly. Three were graduate students in technology at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston: 23-year-old Anusha Anumolu, 23-year-old Anita Lakshmi Veerapaneni and 22-year-old Priya Muppavarapu. The other, 25-year-old Satya Chinta, was from Aurora, Ill.

Relatives in India still are grieving and can't believe they'll never again see their loved ones, said Sharath Rao of the Telugu Association of St. Louis. The association is named after a region of India where the victims were born and raised. The group helped the family with arrangements after the accident and provided some financial assistance.

"It's such a loss for the families -- four young kids and their lives ended," Rao said.

Adusumilli has since returned to work. Miller was badly hurt, too, and her recovery has been slow. She suffered a serious brain injury in the wreck and still suffers from memory loss, Key said. Her injuries were part of the reason it took so long to resolve the case.

"It took about a year before she was capable of talking about her affairs with her attorney," Key said.

Miller was suspended without pay from the Sunset Hills department after she was charged.

Earlier this month, Miller and O'Leary's agreed to pay a total of $2.255 million to compensate the families of the crash victims. The amount was the limit of their insurance policies.

The settlement said Miller will pay $255,000 and O'Leary's will pay $2 million.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

APTV 12-09-10 1850CST

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