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Breast-Feeding Driver Listened to Husband

August 7, 2003

RAVENNA, Ohio (AP) _ A woman on trial for breast-feeding her baby while driving on the Ohio Turnpike testified Thursday that she nursed behind the wheel because her husband told her to.

Catherine Donkers, 29, said she had stopped at a highway rest stop May 8 to feed her 7-month-old daughter, but realized the baby was still hungry after she got back on the road, headed to Michigan from Pennsylvania.

``I called my husband, and he directed me to continue on, to drive to Michigan and nurse my child in the car. We did not feel we were breaking any law,″ Donkers said. ``I had the cruise control on at 65 mph.″

Donkers, who is representing herself on several misdemeanor charges, called herself to the witness stand Thursday afternoon in Portage County Municipal Court.

Breast-feeding while driving ``certainly isn’t a primary choice as a form of feeding my child,″ she said. ``I certainly had no intent to harm my child. I never would.″

Her husband, Brad Barnhill, asked to stand in for his wife at the trial, but the request was denied. The couple says their religious group requires Barnhill to be responsible for punishing Donkers. He also testified Thursday.

``I directed her to do everything she did that day. ... Under our faith, she obeys me,″ Barnhill, 46, said during a break. He has said he told his wife to nurse while driving to save time.

The couple _ who lack a marriage license but claim to be married _ belong to the First Christian Fellowship for Eternal Sovereignty, which has a history of challenging the government.

State Highway Patrol Sgt. Michael A. Harmon testified Thursday that Donkers handed over what appeared to be a homemade Pennsylvania identification card instead of a driver’s license. Donkers’ sect maintains that driver’s licenses should not be required.

The sect was founded in Henderson, Nev., in the 1990s. Barnhill says he is a minister in the fellowship with 650 followers.

Police stopped Donkers after a trucker called 911 to report he had seen a woman driver holding a baby on her lap. Donkers refused to pull over for three miles as a state trooper pursued her.

When she eventually stopped at a Streetsboro toll booth, troopers said she refused to cooperate until she called her husband for permission.

The couple says Donkers did not stop immediately because she didn’t realize right away she was being followed and she wanted to stop at a public place because she had been assaulted by police before.

Prosecutor Sean Scahill asked Donkers if she had to use her hands to move the baby while the car was moving. ``For a very short time I did,″ she said. ``It took me approximately all of a quarter of a second.″

Donkers faces counts including misdemeanor child endangerment, which carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Closing arguments were scheduled for Friday.

Barnhill said he and his wife were living temporarily in Pittsburgh for work, but Donkers was a resident of Livonia, Mich., when arrested.

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