Daughter says woman, who has prior OWI convictions, has learned from her mistakes

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Tricia Barnett's "caring personality" motivated her to get behind the wheel after taking four oxycodone tablets and then drive her then-9-year-old niece home from school, Barnett's daughter wrote in a letter to a Waukesha County Circuit Court judge.

That trip ended when Barnett crashed her car into the back of a school bus.

No one was injured in the accident. But the subsequent charges filed against Barnett have resulted in positive changes in her life, her daughter insisted, and, according to online court records, will result in some jail time and probation.

That's the punishment Judge Lee S. Dreyfus meted out for Barnett, 47, of Waukesha, who pleaded guilty to her fourth operating while intoxicated offense during an Oct. 7 hearing. The charge carried a heftier penalty because it was committed with a child younger than 16 years old in the car.

Court records indicate a related charge of operating with a restricted controlled substance against Barnett was dismissed on a prosecutor's motion.

Dreyfus sentenced Barnett to 125 days in jail, with work-release privileges, and three years of probation in favor of 1½ years in prison, online records show. Dreyfus imposed but stayed the prison term, which means that if Barnett violates any condition of her probation she will have to serve that time.

Stuck under bus

According to a criminal complaint, Barnett's vehicle struck a bus that had two children aboard after she picked up her niece from school shortly after 4 p.m. Sept. 17, 2015 near the intersection of Oakdale and West Sunset drives.

Police noted one-third of the hood of Barnett's sedan was stuck under the rear bumper of the bus and needed to be towed.

A witness said Barnett's car did not slow down as it approached the intersection or before it collided with the bus.

Barnett said in the complaint that, while approaching the intersection and the bus, her foot came off the brake. Another witness said Barnett tried to leave following the crash and that Barnett was slurring her speech.

Barnett told the witness after the crash, "I'm going to try and back up. You think I could back up? I'm going to try and get out of here," according to the complaint.

Barnett told police on scene she didn't consume any alcohol, but had taken one of her prescribed oxycodone 30-mg tablets about 30 minutes before the accident. She later told officers she takes five tablets a day and actually had already taken four of the tablets between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Learning from mistakes

Barnett is taking oxycodone, and other prescription drugs, to manage the pain she suffers from a nearly 20-year-old back injury and subsequent, unsuccessful spinal surgeries, her daughter wrote in the letter, which was filed the same day Barnett was sentenced.

"You can think my mother is a terrible person," she said, "but from the countless mistakes my mother has managed to do plenty (of) good."

Barnett's daughter said her mother was the only person there for her niece and likely thought she could make it to the school and back.

"(This) mistake hit my mom hard," her daughter continued in the letter. "My mom has not even thought of driving a car, and has no plans to ever get her license again so something like this will never lead to harming an individual.

"My mom understands the mistake she made and will face the consequences for what she has done, but she does not deserve to go to prison. My mom has learned from her mistakes."

Criminal history

Barnett has a criminal history stretching back more than a decade, including three prior OWI convictions, according to online court records.

She was convicted of operating while under the influence in October 2002 and twice in May 2008. Her second and third violations occurred within three months of each other.

She pleaded guilty to those offenses, court records show, and spent 150 days in jail as a result. Her driver's license was also revoked for more than four years and owed the court more than $1,600 for the two offenses.

Barnett has also been charged numerous times over the years with operating a vehicle while revoked or without a valid license, operating without carrying a license, bail jumping and retail theft.

She pleaded guilty in 2013 to operating a vehicle while revoked and was sentenced to six months of community service by Judge Michael Bohren.

Barnett pleaded no contest to another charge of operating while revoked in June 2015. She was ordered to serve 18 months of probation, this time by Dreyfus, as part of her sentence.

In the bus crash case, Dreyfus ordered Barnett to maintain absolute sobriety, prohibited her from operating a motor vehicle under any circumstances and required her to attend a victim impact panel next month as conditions of her probation.

Records show she also owes the court $2,270.

Christopher Kuhagen contributed to this story.

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